New Hampshire Governor Latest to Flock to Canadian Drug Imports

December 10, 2003 ( - Pretty soon, the train of local and state government officials vowing to import prescription drugs from Canada is going to be standing room only with New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson the latest to climb aboard.

Benson plans to go the Canadian import route to save on his state’s prescription drug costs even it means defying the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to the Boston Globe.In a Globe interview, Benson brushed aside the FDA’s repeated warnings about the safety of drugs shipped from Canada and dismissed the FDA’s caution that importation would expose states to civil lawsuits if someone dies or is injured by an illegally imported drug.

“The FDA and drug companies have been spreading this notion that it is unsafe, but I have a different take,” Benson said. “We have a lot of people who are not taking prescription drugs because they can’t afford them. I think there’s a liability for sitting still.”

Importing drugs from Canada is illegal under US law. The FDA said it wants to talk to Benson about his program but does not plan to take any action before New Hampshire begins importing drugs. Thus far, the only government entity to operate a program is the City of Springfield (See Springfield, Mass. Pushes Canadian Drug Order Program ). But Boston Mayor Thomas Menino appeared before the City Council Tuesday to say he would set up a pilot program for city workers and retirees in July that could save $1 million a year (See Boston Hops On Canadian Drug Train ).

In Boston, quality and safety concerns moved to the forefront of discussions last night about Menino’s proposed pilot program. Pharmacists and representatives of the biotech industry voiced their own concerns about safety, urging the City Council to be circumspect before embarking on importation. But council members appeared eager to begin importing drugs

Benson’s plan, part of which could be up and running in 10 days, could make New Hampshire the first state to formally adopt a Canadian drug plan. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has said he plans to move aggressively to set up a program. Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan have been studying the idea (See MN Governor Brings Canadian Drug Buying Plan to the Streets ).Though Massachusetts officials have rejected the idea of importing drugs for state employees, New England is emerging as an epicenter of interest in Canadian drug importation. The decision by Benson, a Republican, also emphasizes the bipartisan appeal of Canadian importation.

In addition to Boston and Springfield, Burlington, Vermont, said it plans to import drugs early next year, and Cambridge is studying the issue. Cost savings from Canadian imports are difficult to calculate. Mayor Michael Albano of Springfield has estimated that his city will save $4 million to $9 million a year, but in its first year the program is on pace to save less than $2 million.

New Hampshire Plans

Benson said he did not have any estimates on how much New Hampshire might save. He plans to establish a state-sponsored Web site within 10 days that will provide any New Hampshire resident with access to Canadian Internet pharmacies that are certified as safe by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

That will be followed by a program to import drugs for the state Department of Corrections, which he said will save “millions of dollars” every year. New Hampshire will also give retired state workers the option to buy Canadian drugs. The state will purchase drugs for Medicaid patients as well. But because of contractual obligations, the only drugs for Medicaid patients that New Hampshire can purchase from Canada will be for the treatment of mental illness, Benson said.

The FDA won a federal court injunction last month shutting down RxDepot, a chain of sales agents for Canadian Internet pharmacies (See DoJ Presents Case Against Canadian Drug Store Fronts ). The FDA has said it reserves the right to pursue action against city or state governments that import drugs, but so far it has declined to go after Springfield.