- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) — The governors of Illinois and Wisconsin yesterday began the first state-sponsored program to help residents buy cheaper prescription drugs from both Europe and Canada — despite federal laws banning prescription drug importation.

The program, called I-SaveRx, works through a Canada-based clearinghouse and claims it can save residents 25 percent to 50 percent off U.S. retail prices on about 100 prescription medications.

“Now, the nearly 13 million people who live in Illinois and the more than 5 million people who live in Wisconsin will have the opportunity to save hundreds — and in some cases even thousands — of dollars each year on the high cost of their medicine,” Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich said.

By including pharmacies in Ireland and the United Kingdom, I-SaveRx goes beyond programs in other states that direct residents on how to buy prescription drugs from Canada, where drugs are often cheaper because of price controls.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opposes such reimporting of prescription drugs, saying it can’t guarantee the safety of drugs sold through foreign pharmacies. But it hasn’t stopped Minnesota or other states from setting up Internet sites to help consumers buy drugs through Canadian pharmacies.

Illinois last year requested federal approval to set up a pilot program for the state to import drugs from Canada for state employees and retirees, but the request was rejected.

Rather than drop the idea, the Blagojevich administration sent teams to Europe to study the safety and feasibility of importing prescription drugs from Ireland and United Kingdom, as well as from Canada. Wisconsin recently joined the effort.

The FDA had no immediate comment on the move.

Illinois, which created the I-SaveRx program, will not import the drugs itself. Instead, it has contracted with a Canadian company to connect residents with 45 foreign pharmacies and wholesalers that have been approved by Illinois health inspectors and verified by Wisconsin.

Under the program, consumers can go to an Internet site or call a telephone number to be linked to the Canadian clearinghouse administered by CanaRx, a pharmaceutical-benefits manager that operates a network of online pharmacies. That clearinghouse will provide information on the costs in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom of about 100 of the most common brand-name drugs used to treat chronic or long-term conditions.

Most generic drugs, narcotics or drugs that can spoil during shipping will be excluded from the program, and only refills are allowed.

Consumers must mail or have their doctor fax a completed health-profile form and signed prescription to the clearinghouse, which will conduct an initial scan for appropriateness using the same drug-interaction software used in Illinois pharmacies.

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