- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

D.C. officials said yesterday they have no immediate plans to remove a link on the city Web site that directs residents to a Minnesota-sponsored program for buying imported, low-cost prescription drugs, despite warnings and potential legal consequences for buyers.

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb said the District has received no “executive level” requests from Minnesota officials to remove the link. Mr. Bobb also said he knew of no such request from the Food and Drug Administration, but that the District would “review any requests.”

Minnesota officials said last week they asked the District to remove the link because the state’s contract with Canadian pharmacies are for Minnesota customers only.

“Our contracts do not permit us to have another unit of government linking to the site,” said Dan McElroy, chief of staff for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican.

The link on the city’s Web site directs Web surfers to Minnesota’s RxConnect plan. The state-sponsored clearinghouse provides information on how to buy prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies.

The site, www.dc.gov, includes the disclaimer: “Be aware: Federal law prohibits U.S. residents from purchasing pharmaceuticals from other countries while inside the United States; however, the law is currently not being enforced.”

The FDA last week criticized D.C. officials for creating the link but so far have taken no action.

However, William K. Hubbard, the agency’s associate commissioner for policy and planning, said yesterday that a letter will be sent later this week to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams asking him to remove the link.

The agency has already sent a similar letter to Mr. Pawlenty that calls the RxConnect program “unsafe, unsound and ill-considered.”

Mr. Hubbard said federal regulators cannot assure U.S. patients who buy through the RxConnect program that the drugs will be safe.

D.C. Council member David Catania, at-large Republican, recently said he suggested the link as a stopgap measure while the District is implementing its AccessRx plan to reduce the price of prescription drugs for residents.

AccessRx Act, which Mr. Catania sponsored, would create a prescription program for low-income seniors and uninsured residents. However, a key provision in the plan is being held up in court.

Mr. Catania discounted the FDA’s criticism about purchasing drugs from Canada and said the agency is working with the pharmaceutical industry to maintain the high cost of drugs.

He also said the District received permission from Minnesota to put the link on its Web site, but the state reversed course after the Pawlenty administration learned about the link.

Mr. McElroy said Minnesota officials still want to work with the District to help the city start its own plan to direct residents to buy cheaper drugs in Canada.

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