Springfield State Journal-Register

February 27, 2004

Illinois couple challenges federal ban on import drugs


WASHINGTON - Encouraged by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, an elderly Chicago-area couple filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming it's unconstitutional for the federal government to prevent them from buying less-expensive prescription drugs in Canada.

Ray and Gaylee Andrews, both 74, said they spend more than $800 a month on prescription drugs purchased in the United States. They estimate they could save 43 percent on the seven brand-name drugs prescribed by their doctors if they could buy them north of the border.

"We raised five children and thought we lived modestly. ... Instead, we're being forced to sell our home of 34 years" to cover their drug costs, said Gaylee Andrews, her voice cracking with emotion. She said that she and her husband hold part-time jobs to cover their bills.

The couple from Elk Grove Village appeared at a news conference with Blagojevich, who met the Andrews during his gubernatorial campaign and helped put them in touch with Chicago lawyer Robert Clifford. He said he's representing them without charge.

The Andrews' lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court here, seeks class-action status. The state is not a party to the suit, but is considering filing a brief in support of the couple, Clifford said.

"If this lawsuit is successful, it means that Illinois will be free to import prescription drugs from Canada," Blagojevich said.
The Andrews are not seeking monetary damages.

"They are asking for one thing and one thing only: the right to make their own rational medical decisions and the right to buy the safe, affordable prescription drugs they need without the interference of the government," Blagojevich said.

The suit claims that federal law unconstitutionally violates their 5th Amendment right to privacy by denying them freedom to make personal medical decisions, improperly gives legislative authority to the executive branch by allowing the secretary of health and human services to decide if importation should be legal, and is enforced in a way that disproportionately affects
seniors in non-border states who can't easily get to the less-expensive medicine.

Blagojevich in December asked the Bush administration for permission to launch a pilot program to import prescription drugs from Canada, which he estimates could save the state $91 million of the $340 million it spends each year on drugs for Illinois state employees and retirees.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it can't guarantee the safety of prescription drugs bought in other countries and has refused the request.

There was no immediate response from the FDA Thursday.
Blagojevich accused the FDA of using "scare tactics" aimed at convincing consumers that brand-name prescription drugs in Canada are unsafe.

"Millions of consumers like Ray and Gaylee have now nowhere to turn while their prescription drug costs keep rising and their savings keep disappearing," Blagojevich said.

"The primary job of government is to protect the health and the safety of the people, not to protect the financial interests of the pharmaceutical industry and not to do the bidding of the army of lobbyists who work for the big drug companies," the governor said.

On Tuesday, Blagojevich met with other governors here for a National Governors Association conference to build political support for importing cheaper drugs from Canada.