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Americans turn to Canada for 'illegal' drugs Medicine cheaper north of border Officials openly defy ban on imports
KAREN TESTA ASSOCIATED PRESS
BOSTON?The city of Boston and the state of New Hampshire announced yesterday they will begin buying prescription drugs from Canada, jumping to the forefront of the growing but illegal movement to take advantage of lower prices across the border.
New Hampshire would become the first state to turn to Canada for drugs, and Boston would become only the second U.S. city ? after Springfield, Mass., about 150 kilometres west.
"It's illegal, but it's about time we forced the issue," said Mayor Thomas Menino, a Democrat. "Why is the consumer the only one to pay full price for prescription drugs?"
The mayor said Boston will begin buying prescription drugs this summer for about 7,000 city employees and retirees.
New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson said the state will begin buying medicine for prisoners and Medicaid recipients as soon as possible. His spokesperson would not be more specific on when it would start.
"It's time we stood up as a state and did the right thing and allowed citizens to purchase drugs from the most affordable supplier," said Benson, a Republican.
A number of other states and cities, including Illinois and New York City, have expressed intentions to buy prescription drugs from Canada.
The Boston and New Hampshire plans were announced a day after U.S. President George W. Bush signed the Medicare prescription drug bill, which forbids the importation of Canadian drugs unless the U.S. Health and Human Services Department certifies their safety. So far, the department has refused to do so.
The Food and Drug Administration reiterated its warnings yesterday against any importation of drugs.
"For the mayor of Boston or anyone else to presume that they can make drugs safe simply be saying they are safe is extremely risky behaviour," said Peter Pitts, FDA's associate commissioner for external affairs. "The public servants of Boston deserve better than a gimmick."
Menino, past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said he wants to meet with FDA head Mark McClellan and Tommy Thompson, secretary of health and human services, to seek help in making the process safe and legal.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Boston estimates it will cut $1 million (U.S.) a year from its $61 million drug bill --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Under Benson's plan, the New Hampshire state prison system would save money on nine of 10 drugs most commonly prescribed for inmates. The state also will buy Medicaid drugs from Canada when the Canadian price is lower than the state's usual share of the Medicaid cost.
The state will also post a Web site within 10 days providing links to Canadian pharmacies where any New Hampshire resident can get a prescription filled. The pharmacies will be approved as safe by the state, Benson said.
Boston's 15,000 employees and retirees have drug costs covered in two ways: through outside health plans, or directly by the city. The second group, about 7,000 people who are mostly retirees, will have the option of buying from Canada.
The program would cut about $1 million (U.S.) each year from the city's $61 million prescription drug bill, according to city estimates.
Prescription drugs in Canada are considerably cheaper. For example, 100 capsules of a popular arthritis-relieving drug costing about $345 (Cdn) in the U.S., is priced at $150 in Canada.
Wanda Moebius, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said municipal leaders would do better to tell employees about programs for people who cannot afford prescription drugs.
"People's safety shouldn't take a back seat to savings," she said. Menino said the program would be kept small at first, to ensure safety.
Outgoing Springfield Mayor Michael Albano, who has travelled widely to tout his city's importation plan, said Menino's move will force the FDA to take notice. Though importing drugs from Canada is illegal, the FDA has not tried to stop Springfield.
Albano, a Democrat, said he expects the move to "send shockwaves across the country."
Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, appearing with Menino at an unrelated event yesterday, said he supports the mayor's plan.
"As part of the effort to reclaim Medicare and to move this nation into an affordable, dependable, reliable prescription drug program for seniors, I think importation from Canada is justified," he said.
But Ira Loss, executive vice-president of Washington Analysis, which conducts research for institutional investors, said Menino is making a mistake.
"This is not an approach that is going to win this guy any favours, any friends in Washington," Loss said. "It's breaking the rule of law."