Springfield State Journal Register

February 25, 2004

Blagojevich pushes drug plan in D.C.


WASHINGTON - As the state of Wisconsin announced Tuesday that it will make it easier for residents to buy prescription drugs from Canada, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he is committed to convincing the White House to approve his drug-importation plan.

Blagojevich used a hearing Tuesday on prescription drugs to step up pressure on the federal government to let states import cheaper drugs from Canada.

He and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who together organized the hearing, are sending a report of their findings to all the nation's governors in an effort to rally them to their cause.
"Together maybe we can put more pressure on the system here in Washington," said Blagojevich, a Democrat.

He arrived in Washington on Tuesday for a three-day visit, will meet with the Illinois congressional delegation today and has scheduled an announcement on prescription drugs Thursday.

During the hearing, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle announced that his state will publish a list of recommended Canadian pharmacies on a state Web site to make it easier for residents to order prescriptions from safe and reliable pharmacies.

In Canada, which has government price controls, the same prescription drugs typically cost far less than in the United States.

Minnesota launched a similar Web site a month ago, drawing a rebuke from the Food and Drug Administration, which considers importation of drugs unsafe.

The FDA has not threatened legal action, but a federal official said the Minnesota program is a potential violation of the law.
Blagojevich is seeking federal approval to import prescriptions from Canada for Illinois state employees and retirees. A study indicated his plan could save $91 million a year.

He ruled out implementing the plan without federal approval, even though some at the hearing advocated that course of 

"I don't think a state like Illinois should break the law," he said.
The city of Springfield, Mass., began importing drugs from Canada last July in defiance of federal law.

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, state authorities have inspected Canadian pharmacies and recommended those that met their standards.

Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor, said some of the pharmacies his state inspected had deficiencies and were not included in the recommendations.

Blagojevich's office is reviewing the Wisconsin and Minnesota programs to determine whether they are legal and could be adapted by Illinois, said Abby Ottenhoff, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Tuesday's hearing drew several governors and lawmakers, who all criticized the administration for opposing state efforts to buy cheaper drugs from Canada. The FDA was invited to send a representative but declined, organizers said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., praised Canada's political leadership, which he said prevented drug manufacturers from exploiting that nation's citizens, in contrast to the U.S. government.

There is no instance of an American dying or becoming sick from
prescriptions purchased from Canada, proponents of drug imports said.

Dori Meinert of Copley News Service contributed to this report.