updated 6/4/2004 2:53:42 PM ET 2004-06-04T18:53:42

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has officially denied a petition from Gov. Rod Blagojevich for a pilot program to buy prescription drugs from Canada.

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Blagojevich and officials in other states have been pushing the Bush administration to change its policy prohibiting Canadian drug imports in a bid to save the state money on drug costs.

The Food and Drug Administration, which is part of the Health and Human Services Department, opposes importation from Canada because it cannot guarantee the medicine’s safety, officials had said.

“Our review indicates that such state pilot projects are not authorized under current law and present added safety concerns,” Lester Crawford, acting commissioner of the FDA, wrote in a letter to the governor’s office.

Older Americans have flocked to Canada for prescription medications as drug prices in the United States have soared and fixed incomes have not kept up, advocates say.

Blagojevich has said the pilot project to purchase Canadian prescriptions for state employees and retirees would save the state $91 million.

Blagojevich had not yet seen the letter from Crawford, but the decision was “not surprising,” Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said Thursday.

The Bush “administration has not been very concerned about finding honest ways of helping people afford their prescription drugs,” Ottenhoff said.

The governor is still hoping for federal approval of importation as the result of a citizens’ petition submitted last month to the FDA, Ottenhoff said.

Blagojevich sent emissaries to Europe last month to determine how much the state could save by importing drugs from there. Their report has not yet been made public.

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