updated 3/31/2004 7:36:01 PM ET 2004-04-01T00:36:01

While researching the safety of prescription drugs, New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson ordered brand-name medicines from a Canadian online pharmacy for about half the cost of purchasing the same drugs in the United States, the governor said Wednesday.

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The governor used his credit card to buy the drugs from the Web site of CanadaDrugs.com and had the medicine mailed to his home without disclosing his public office. “I thought this was important to try this out myself,” Benson said.

He hopes his findings encourage the federal government to give New Hampshire a waiver to order drugs from Canadian pharmacies for Medicaid patients and state prisoners.

FDA condemns governor's actions
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a broad condemnation of Benson’s actions Wednesday.

“We strongly believe that the endorsement by a public official such as yourself would undermine one of our nation’s key consumer protection statutes and place your constituents at unnecessary risk of harm from unregulated pharmaceuticals,” reads a letter to Benson from William Hubbard, associate FDA commissioner for policy and planning.

Benson said he arranged with a doctor to get prescriptions for six common medicines and asked the Canadian pharmacy and two New Hampshire pharmacies to fill the prescriptions.

The drugs included Lipitor for high cholesterol; Zoloft for depression; Glucophage for diabetes; Neurontin, a non-narcotic painkiller; Dilantin for seizures; and Prevacid for ulcers.

Benson does not take any of those drugs for his own health needs and said he ordered them only to study the safety of the Canadian supplier.

Lab analysis finds no difference
The two sets of prescription drugs were then compared by a state laboratory. Scientists found no differences, officials said.

Benson said the Canadian Web site saved him about $550 over the cost of obtaining the same prescriptions in New Hampshire.

The FDA opposes importing drugs from Canada because of safety concerns. The agency argues that faxing prescriptions to Canada would allow for abuses such as filling the same prescription at multiple pharmacies.

“Just because one batch of drugs from one company purchased by the state tested safe doesn’t mean that all drugs are safe,” said Rick Potter, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Pharmacists Association.

Benson, a Republican, said the medicines arrived in their original sealed containers from American manufacturers such as Pfizer. New Hampshire pharmacies, on the other hand, counted pills into unsealed containers to fill prescriptions, creating a risk for errors, he said.

“This report refutes the false claims of the pharmaceutical industry who only wish to scare our seniors. Not only are these medications safe and effective, they cost half the price,” Benson said.

Democratic House Speaker Peter Burling questioned Benson’s methods. “The governor, by holding himself out as someone who had a prescription for these drugs, violated federal law and I would suspect state law concerning the abuse of prescriptions,” he said.

State Health Commissioner John Stephen, who worked on the study with Benson, said the experiment showed that CanadaDrugs.com “is a safe and effective drug operation.”

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