Friday, August 20, 2004

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration yesterday sent a letter to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams that criticizes an item on the official D.C. government Web site that directs residents to buy low-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

“I want to express our dismay that the government of the nation’s capital would initiate a program to import prescription drugs from Canada, in violation of longstanding drug laws,” wrote William K. Hubbard, the FDA’s associate commissioner for planning and policy.

“The safety of our prescription drug supply is an important responsibility of public officials, and we greatly fear that your actions undermine protections that have served our citizens well,” Mr. Hubbard wrote.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Williams said he was reviewing the letter yesterday, but that the mayor probably would not comment on the FDA warning before next week.

Despite the criticism, the FDA’s two-page letter stops short of threatening any enforcement action if the District does not remove the link to Minnesota RxConnect.

The Washington Times first reported this month that the city government’s Web site ( has a link to Minnesota RxConnect, a Minnesota-sponsored program that provides information on how to buy low-cost prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies. The FDA has declared the program unsafe.

The D.C. Web site offers 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.”

Minnesota officials subsequently asked the District to remove the link from its Web site.

“Our contracts with the pharmacies in Canada are very specific that they’re for Minnesota customers only,” Daniel McElroy, chief of staff for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, told The Times. “Our contract does not permit us to have another government linking to the site.”

Mr. Hubbard’s letter to Mr. Williams says linking to Minnesota RxConnect “utilizes another state’s judgement to guide citizens of the District of Columbia in purchasing drugs from Canadian pharmacies.”

He said the FDA has “serious concerns” that the program contracts with pharmacies that sell “drugs of dubious quality.”

D.C. Council member David A. Catania earlier this year suggested that the District link to the Minnesota program while city officials implemented uncontested portions of the AccessRx Act, including the prescription plan for low-income residents and a requirement for drug makers to report their marketing costs.

Mr. Catania, at-large Republican, has disputed the FDA’s criticism about purchasing drugs from Canada, saying the federal agency is working with the pharmaceutical industry to maintain the high cost of drugs.

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