Wednesday, August 25, 2004

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday backed the city’s link to a Minnesota state Web site that shows consumers how to get low-cost drugs from Canada, defying warnings from federal regulators and Minnesota officials.

“I believe in what we’re doing,” Mr. Williams said, referring to an item recently posted on the official D.C. government Web site that links to Minnesota RxConnect.

The item on the city’s Web site ( is titled “Get Low Cost Pharmaceuticals from Canada,” and it links to a Minnesota state-sponsored clearinghouse that helps people buy drugs from state-approved Canadian pharmacies.

“I believe we ought to have that link,” the mayor said during his weekly press briefing.

A spokesman for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, yesterday said that state officials have “informally asked” D.C. officials to stop linking to the Minnesota RxConnect plan.

“You can expect some sort of formal action, perhaps in the form of a letter, to occur in the very near future if the link is not taken down,” spokesman Dan Wolter said.

Mr. Wolter said Minnesota officials are willing to advise the District on starting its own clearinghouse to buy drugs from Canada.

The Minnesota RxConnect plan began in January and provides residents of that state information on buying prescription drugs from four Canadian pharmacies that stock more than 800 drugs.

“For us, there was exorbitant work done visiting the [Canadian] pharmacies and legally reviewing liability issues and so forth,” Mr. Wolter said. “I think there would be some concern about general liability in D.C.”

The D.C. link offers a 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.”

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent Mr. Williams a letter criticizing the city’s decision to link to the Minnesota RxConnect site. The letter stated that directing people to Canada for prescription drugs was “in violation of long-standing drug laws.”

“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,” William K. Hubbard, FDA associate commissioner for policy and planning, wrote.

Mr. Hubbard also said the city’s link to Minnesota RxConnect “utilizes another state’s judgment to guide citizens [sic] of the District of Columbia in purchasing drugs from Canadian pharmacies.”

However, Mr. Williams said yesterday that the link is an important resource because it could help low-income city residents find affordable prescriptions. He said he was still reviewing the FDA’s letter and has not responded.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large Republican, first suggested that the District link to the Minnesota program while city officials implemented uncontested portions of the city’s recently approved AccessRx Act.

The law, which Mr. Williams has signed, includes a plan to lower drug prices for low-income and elderly residents. It also includes a requirement for drug makers to report their marketing costs.

Mr. Catania has disputed the FDA’s criticism about purchasing drugs from Canada, saying the federal agency is working to protect the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.

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