Blagojevich ‘Playing a Shell Game with People’s Lives’

Published April 20, 2004

CHICAGO, April 20, 2004–Governor Rod Blagojevich announced today that he is sending a task force overseas to study whether the state should import prescription drugs from Europe.

“There’s a big world out there,” said Blagojevich. “I am instructing our special drug advocates to study how people in Illinois can import prescription drugs not only from Canada, but also from Europe. Because in Europe, prices are even lower than they are in Canada.”

European drugs are less expensive, but also less safe, warned experts at the Chicago-based Heartland Institute.

“The governor is playing a shell game with people’s lives,” said Joseph L. Bast, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Institute. “First his marble was under the Canadian shell. Now that’s been exposed, so he’s shifted his marble to the European shell.

“Where will the marble go next–Africa?”

While disturbing, the governor’s move is not surprising, said Bast. Several Canadian-based Internet pharmacies recently announced they would be filling prescription orders through Europe, because Canadian drug supplies are insufficient to meet demand. Canada manufactures very few drugs domestically and currently imports 40 percent of its drugs from countries other than the United States.

According to Industry Canada, a department of the Canadian federal government, Canadian imports from Singapore increased by 30 percent between 2002 and 2003; from Ecuador, nearly 200 percent; and from Iran, more than 2,700 percent.

That, noted Heartland Senior Fellow Conrad F. Meier, is cause for grave concern.

“America’s huge market for prescription drugs is a tempting target for counterfeiters,” noted Meier, who is managing editor of Health Care News, a monthly publication produced by Heartland. “We knew all along Canadian drug supplies wouldn’t be sufficient to sustain the importation program Governor Blagojevich has proposed. The smugglers and counterfeiters know that, too.”

The World Health Organization estimates up to 8 percent of the world’s drug supply is counterfeit. In Africa and Asia, that figure reaches 25 percent and more.

Noted Meier, “Eastern Europe is a growing source of counterfeit drugs. Operations producing millions of pounds’ worth of fake pills have been exposed in Poland, Bulgaria, and Turkey–all three of which are on the verge of joining the European Union.”

Importation raises serious concerns the governor has failed to address, noted Lee Walker, a Heartland senior fellow and director of The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change, a Chicago-based black think tank.

“Drug importation will create a two-tier system of drug quality in the U.S.,” said Walker. “One tier will be for those who can afford to pay for safe, American-made, FDA-inspected drugs. The other will be for low-income people–minorities and the elderly poor–who will be exposed to dangerous counterfeit drugs.”

The experts identified in this news release are available for further comment. To make arrangements, or for more information about The Heartland Institute, contact Allen Fore, The Heartland Institute’s vice president – public affairs, at 312/377-4000, email [email protected].

The Web site of The Heartland Institute offers more than two dozen documents addressing prescription drug importation.