updated 12/18/2003 3:35:31 PM ET 2003-12-18T20:35:31

Boston will proceed with plans to let city employees purchase prescription drugs from Canada despite a federal prohibition on importing them, Mayor Thomas Menino said Thursday after meeting with Food and Drug Administration officials.

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Associate FDA Commissioner William Hubbard and other agency officials urged Menino during a one-hour meeting at the agency's headquarters to drop the cost-saving plan. Menino said he intends to press ahead toward launching a pilot program in July but added he will continue to discuss it with FDA officials.

"I'm willing to continue dialogue with the FDA, to try to come to some definitive answer," Menino said. "I'm not going to run into this thing headlong."

Boston is one of a growing number of cities and states considering the illegal, cross-border importation of prescription drugs as a way to cut costs. Only Springfield, Mass., has a full program in place that allows its employees to buy the much cheaper medications from Canada, where the government controls prices.

The FDA has been meeting routinely with local and state officials from around the country to stress the legal and safety problems of importing Canadian drugs. After Thursday's meeting, FDA officials said they will visit Boston to again try to persuade Menino to drop the idea.

New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson turned down an invitation to meet with FDA officials in Washington. His spokesman, Wendell Packard, said Benson intends to go forward with plans to have the state Department of Corrections buy Canadian drugs for its prisoners.

FDA Associate Commissioner Peter Pitts said the agency is concerned that New Hampshire officials are moving forward with their plan without talking to federal authorities.

"'Live Free or Die' is a nice motto, but it's bad health care policy," Pitts said.

The FDA has argued that buying drugs from Canada is risky because U.S. officials cannot guarantee the safety and dosages of medicines imported or purchased over the Internet.

Menino's pilot program would give about 7,000 Boston workers and retirees who receive health coverage through the city's self-insurance plan the option of buying their drugs from Canada. The city has 15,000 workers and retirees, but more than half are covered through outside health plans. They would not get the Canadian option.

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