Media Advisory: Illinois Drug Import Plan: Putting Politics Ahead of Public Safety

August 17, 2004
Kevin Fitzgerald

Chicago, IL, August 17, 2004: According to a news story in today's Chicago Sun-Times by Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Rep. Rahm Emanuel will announce today plans to launch the "Illinois Drug Import Plan." The plan would allow Illinois consumers to buy prescription drugs over a Web site or a toll-free line from pharmacies in Canada, England, and Ireland.

Following are reactions from Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute, a 20-year-old nonprofit research organization based in Chicago. Bast is coauthor of two books on health care reform and publisher of Health Care News, a monthly newspaper devoted to consumer-driven health care reform.

Bast can be reached at 312/377-4000, or contacted by email at jbast@heartland.org.


"Governor Blagojevich and Rep. Emanuel are tapping into public discontent over high drug prices, public awareness of lower prices in Canada, and the ease with which the Internet allows U.S. consumers to buy drugs from suppliers located anywhere in the world. But there are valid reasons why importing prescription drugs has been illegal for nearly two decades.

"Buying drugs from Canada used to be safe, but it isn't anymore. The Canadian prescription drug market is barely 5 percent the size of the U.S. market. To meet the rising demand from U.S. consumers, Canadian pharmacies and Web sites are importing huge quantities of drugs from Brazil, Bangladesh, China, South Africa, and even Saudi Arabia and Iran. Those drugs are being sold to American consumers who mistakenly believe they are getting drugs made in the U.S. or Canada.

"This should disturb us because Health Canada (Canada's version of the FDA) does not inspect drugs entering the country, and the FDA does only random checks of drugs that cross the border from Canada to the U.S. Consequently, more and more drugs purchased from Canada are actually manufactured elsewhere, in countries with low or unenforced health standards and in facilities that have not been inspected by U.S. health authorities.

"Random inspections by U.S. drug authorities have found an alarming percentage of drugs purchased over the Internet are counterfeit, adulterated, or mislabeled. Many Web sites that claim to be selling 'Canadian drugs' are not even located in Canada and are buying their drugs elsewhere.

"Some may argue that lower prices are worth the greater risk of ingesting unsafe products. But the price comparisons cited by advocates of drug importation fail to make this case. Consumers in the U.S. can often find prices as low as Canadian prices simply by calling two or three pharmacies in their communities and asking for prices before buying. Safe and effective generic drugs are widely available at prices well below those of brand-name drugs sold in Canada. Pfizer and other drug companies offer discounts to low-income people and people without insurance that match or exceed the savings promised by advocates of importation.

"Why, if the price differences aren't very large and the public health risks are considerable, are Governor Blagojevich and Rep. Emanuel calling for importing drugs from Canada? Why aren't they calling, instead, for reform of the FDA, which needlessly raises the cost of introducing new drugs, or for abolishing price controls in Canada, which enable Canadians to free ride on investments made in research and development by U.S. drug manufacturers?

"I believe the 'Illinois Drug Import Plan' is all about embarrassing a Republican president, pandering to the all-important senior citizen constituency, and demonizing an unpopular industry. It is instructive to note that Governor Blagojevich and Rep. Emanuel did not call for drug importation when Bill Clinton was president, even though it was also illegal then. Their reason for making this an issue now is clearly partisan politics.

"That the governor and Rep. Emanuel are willing to risk the health and safety of millions of American prescription drug consumers to score a few political points is truly alarming. That is the real story behind today's announcement."


Editor: For more information, contact Kevin Fitzgerald at 312/377-4000 or email fitzgerald@heartland.org. For more information about drug importation, visit The Heartland Institute's Web site at http://www.heartland.org, click on the "PolicyBot" button, and then choose "Health Care / Drugs: Importation" from the list of topics.

The following experts may also be available to comment on the subject:

Robert Goldberg, Ph.D., senior fellow, the Manhattan Institute, bobgoldberg@yahoo.com

Stephen Entin, president, Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation, sentin@iret.org

John R. Graham, director of health and pharmaceutical policy research at the Fraser Institute (Vancouver, Canada), johng@fraserinstitute.ca

Grace-Marie Turner, president, The Galen Institute, gracemarie@galen.org