Illinois Pharmacists Association, FDA Launch Campaign To Warn Consumers About Safety Risks of Reimportation
The Illinois Pharmacists Association on Wednesday launched a campaign in conjunction with FDA and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to warn state residents that prescription drugs purchased from Canada could prove "unsafe or ineffective," the Chicago Sun-Times reports (Ritter, Chicago Sun-Times, 2/5). The "Looks Can Be Deceiving" campaign will reach 1,500 state pharmacies and will cost the Illinois Pharmacists Association, which represents about 1,800 pharmacists in the state, between $50,000 and $65,000, according to the group (Dardick, Chicago Tribune, 2/5). The campaign will include more than 1.5 million posters, fliers and prescription drug inserts (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/5). Tom McGinnis, director of pharmacy affairs at FDA, said, "We want people to understand that importation is illegal and unsafe" (Chicago Tribune, 2/5).
According to the AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the campaign marks the first time that a statewide group has "requested permission to distribute FDA literature on the risk associated with imported drugs" and "signals how seriously" the group and the agency have taken efforts by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to establish a reimportation program for state employees and retirees (AP/St Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/5). Blagojevich in December asked HHS to allow the state to establish a reimportation pilot program. Illinois could contract with a Canadian pharmacy benefit manager to administer the program by mail order or could purchase certain medications in bulk from Canadian pharmacies and distribute them from a state-based mail-order center. The FDA and state lawmakers would have to agree to the prescription drugs included in the program. In addition, Illinois would limit participation in the program to 230,000 state employees and retirees. According to an 85-page report commissioned by Blagojevich in September and released in November, the state could save as much as $56.5 million per year on prescription drugs for state employees and retirees through reimportation, and state employees and retirees could save as much as $34.2 million per year. Illinois spends $340 million per year on prescription drugs. The report also said that prescription drugs reimported from Canada are safe and effective (California Healthline, 12/22/03).
Abby Ottenhoff, a spokesperson for Blagojevich, said that FDA "is choosing to defend a system that charges the highest prices in the world, instead of working with us to develop a safe solution giving consumers access to lower prices" (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/5). Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who also criticized the campaign, said, "I do believe (the FDA) should go back to regulating rather than representing the pharmaceutical companies" (Chicago Tribune, 2/5). Scott Drabant, president of the Illinois Pharmacy Association, said, "This is a safety issue. It is not an economic issue for Illinois pharmacists" (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/5). Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, added, "Proponents of importation discount the risks" (Chicago Tribune, 2/5). She cited 94 reports received by the group from consumers who said that "they didn't receive the drugs they ordered or received drugs that appeared to be counterfeit," the Sun-Times reports (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/5).
The campaign in Illinois marks the latest in a "public relations battle" between FDA and states that seek to establish reimportation programs to help reduce their prescription drug costs, the Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Dixon, Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/5). Last month, FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan said that the agency might take legal action against states or cities that implement such programs (California Healthline, 1/12). According to pharmaceutical industry officials, 25 states and 15 cities may implement such programs (Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/5). McGinnis said, "We hope other state pharmacy societies and other consumer associations will approach us" to launch similar campaigns (AP/St Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/5). White House Senior Health Policy Advisor Doug Badger on Wednesday participated in an "Ask the White House" interactive chat on reimportation and other health care issues. The complete transcript of the chat is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.