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FDA battle over Canada drugs heats up

U.S. regulators Wednesday turned up the heat in a public-relations battle against states that seek to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.  They criticized Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, among others, for his efforts to “ignore federal law” by advocating the importation of Canadian drugs.
/ Source: Reuters

U.S. regulators Wednesday turned up the heat in a public-relations battle against states that seek to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

They criticized Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, among others, for his efforts to “ignore federal law” by advocating the importation of Canadian drugs.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, has said he would like to cut the state’s budget by providing less expensive medications to retirees and state employees. Twenty-five states and 15 U.S. localities are exploring the idea, according to officials in the pharmaceuticals industry.

FDA officials warn that medicines bought from other countries may be contaminated, counterfeit or expired, but proponents of importation argue that it can be done safely. Some have accused the FDA of fighting the practice to protect the profits of drug makers, a charge agency officials deny.

“We want people to understand that importation is illegal and unsafe,” Tom McGinnis, director of pharmacy affairs at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said in a written statement ahead of a widely publicized rally in Chicago.

The FDA planned to hold a Chicago news conference later on Wednesday, aimed at educating consumers about potential health risks of using imported drugs.

Joining the FDA in its information campaign are the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and the Illinois Pharmacists Association.

Buyer beware system?
Buying prescription drugs from Canada has become a hot-button issue for states seeking to rein in spending.

In December, Blagojevich asked the U.S. health secretary for a waiver to experiment with importation -- an exception federal officials say is unlikely.

A spokeswoman for the governor, Abby Ottenhoff, said they have not taken any action that violates federal law and await a response from the federal government to its request.

“Right now it is a ’buyer-beware system’ where people buying drugs over the Internet don’t know where the drugs are coming from,” she said.

“While the FDA talks a lot of the potential dangers of importation, they have yet to give any evidence that a single individual from the U.S. who has gotten drugs from Canada has been harmed,” Ottenhoff said.

Late last month, the FDA said that a recent inspection of medicines coming into the U.S. found most contained unapproved versions of drugs that were potentially risky.

Although the practice is illegal in most cases, many Americans are buying prescriptions across the border, because they lack health insurance or simply can’t afford the highest prices in the world.