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FDA trying to stop Canadian drug imports

/ Source: The Associated Press

Federal Food and Drug Administration officials are hoping to persuade Boston and New Hampshire officials to abandon plans to buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

FDA Associate Commissioner William Hubbard, who will meet with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino Thursday morning, said that so far he has been successful in stemming the surge of U.S. cities and states eyeing the low-cost Canadian drugs.

But his luck may be running out.

Menino, who announced last week that the city will begin buying drugs from Canada, has already agreed the program is not legal. But, he said, "it's about time we forced the issue."

And New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson, who made a similar announcement to buy Canadian drugs last week, turned down an invitation to meet with the FDA in Maryland.

"At this point the governor intends to move forward with our plan," said Benson's spokesman Wendell Packard on Tuesday. He said Benson would meet with FDA officials if they come to New Hampshire.

So Hubbard will make his pitch to Boston leaders, and will seek to debunk the pharmacies' claims that they are providing the same, safe drugs that Boston employees could get in the United States. Instead, he said, they could be getting substandard or unsafe drugs.

"We'll be explaining the legal and health concerns," he said.

Hubbard said he has laid out the same arguments to officials from other states including Illinois and Wisconsin. "Afterward, they declined to proceed with their program, once they understood our concerns."

The FDA has repeatedly argued that buying drugs from Canada is illegal and risky because it cannot guarantee the safety and dosages of imported products or Internet sales.

Menino will also meet Thursday with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who recently introduced legislation that would allow the importation of drugs from Canada. Kennedy is the ranking Democrat on the Senate health committee.

A growing number of states spanning the country are studying proposals to buy Canadian drugs, and several have provided a list of web sites for workers to use to make their purchases. But so far the FDA's repeated safety and legal warnings have stalled any plans for a state to import drugs from Canada.

Only one city, Springfield, Mass., has defied the FDA and put a full program in place. And according to Springfield Mayor Michael Albano, it's been a complete success. Since July the city has saved more than $1 million in drug costs, he said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson "has talked about doing a pilot program _ they have a pilot program. It's right here, in little ol' Springfield, Mass.," Albano said Tuesday. "And we haven't had one safety concern and we're getting over 2,200 people enrolled. People are signing up virtually every day."

New Hampshire may become the first to implement a statewide program. Packard said the state Department of Corrections is hoping to soon begin its program to buy drugs from Canada for prisoners.