CHICAGO – As the pharmaceutical industry pushes forward with efforts to shut off Americans’ access to less expensive prescription drugs from Canada, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that Illinois will look beyond Canada and investigate the possibility of importing prescription drugs from Europe. The state will launch a study comparing the safety and cost of prescription drugs in Europe with those available in Illinois.
“By some estimates, every year Americans buy close to $1 billion worth of prescription drugs from Canada. Now, if you were the head of a pharmaceutical company, you might look at this situation and think, ‘Americans are our best customers. They buy more prescription drugs than any other nation in the world, – and they pay the highest prices for those drugs. Maybe, we ought to try and treat them better,’” said Blagojevich. “But evidently, that’s not how the CEO’s of the big pharmaceutical companies see it. Instead, at least five of those companies have decided to limit the supply of drugs they sell to Canadian pharmacies, to deprive Americans of access to lower-priced medications.
“What that tells me is we cannot limit our search for lower-priced prescription drugs only to Canada.
As the old saying goes, there’s a big world out there. A world in which the people of every industrialized country pay far less for prescription drugs than we do here in the United States. And that’s why today, 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.”
The Governor has asked the state’s Special Advocates on Prescription Drugs – Ram Kamath, Pharm.D., and Scott McKibbin – to lead a comprehensive study of Europe’s pharmaceutical regulatory and distribution systems. They will compare pricing and safety in the most industrialized countries across the Atlantic with those in Illinois to find out if expanding importation to European markets would give Illinois consumers access to a sustainable supply of safe, affordable medications. The research team will talk to and meet with all interested parties in the European Union’s prescription drug supply chain, including retailers, wholesalers and parallel importers.
Congressman Emanuel said, "I commend Governor Blagojevich for his continued commitment to help all Illinoisans access affordable drugs. Just as Governor Blagojevich's initial study found that importing from Canada would save Illinois $91 million, I am sure this European review will show that when competition and choice are allowed into the market, taxpayers and consumers can save even more. My bill that passed the House last year relied on importing drugs from both Canada and Europe. While the pharmaceutical companies continue their efforts to thwart importation, they will not break the resolve of the millions of Americans who rely on importation for safe and affordable prescription drugs."
Desperate to find relief from the highest drug prices in the world, more than a million American consumers a year turn to Canada to fill their prescriptions via telephone or the internet. Canadian prices for the same drugs available in the United States are as much as 80 percent less.
In October of 2003, Governor Blagojevich dispatched a team of state regulatory experts to Canada to study the safety and feasibility of importing prescription drugs from Canada for the state’s 230,000 employees and retirees. The research group found that the drug distribution system in Canada is as safe, and in some cases safer, than Illinois’. It also reported that the state and members of its health plan could save a combined $91 million a year by purchasing drugs used to treat long-term or chronic conditions from Canada.
Since Illinois released its findings, and other states have begun pushing for legalized importation, five major drug companies announced plans to crack down on Canadian pharmacies that sell to Americans. In February, drug manufacturer Pfizer began shutting off supplies to Canadian pharmacies and wholesalers, and recently Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca announced they would begin taking similar action. GlaxoSmithKline and Wyeth said last fall they would consider limiting supplies.
But Canada is not the only industrialized country that sells the same drugs available in the United States for much less. In fact, some of the most common name-brand drugs are manufactured in Europe and then exported to the United States, including Prevacid, which is made by Tap in Ireland; Welchol, which is made by Sankyo in Austria; and Demadex, which is made by Roche in Spain.
“We have been telling the FDA for months that we can safely and cost-effectively import prescription drugs from Canada. And we believe we will find prescription drugs that are just as safe – and even cheaper – in Europe. My hope is that our report will help Congress and the FDA reach the right decision. The decision to finally allow the American people to import prescription drugs from Canada, and if all goes as we hope, to import prescription drugs from Europe as well,” Blagojevich said. “Should the FDA and the Congress fail to act, and should our drug advocates come back with a report saying we can import prescription drugs from Europe safely and effectively, then we’ll have some soul searching to do – and we may have no choice but to directly help the people of this state by taking advantage of better prices offered both in Canada and in Europe.”
Governor Blagojevich has been a leader in pushing for state programs and federal policies to help Illinois taxpayers and consumers save money on prescription drugs by importing them from Canada.
- September 2003: Governor Blagojevich announces that Illinois will send a delegation of pharmaceutical, regulatory and legal experts to Canada to study and report on the safety and potential cost-savings of importing drugs from Canada. Six weeks later the group releases a comprehensive report detailing how drugs could be imported safely with savings of up to $91 million for the state and its employees and retirees.
- November 2003: After five major drug companies threatened to limit supplies to Canada if Canadian pharmacies filled American prescriptions, Governor Blagojevich instructs the state-sponsored health plans to review their preferred-drug lists and, when safe equivalents are available, rank drugs not made by the five companies higher on the preferred list. This review is nearing completion.
- December 2003: Governor Blagojevich formally requests a waiver from HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to allow Illinois to conduct a pilot program to import prescription drugs from Canada on a limited basis for its employee and retiree health plan.
- January 2004: Governor Blagojevich launches Illinois’ Senior Prescription Drug Buying Club. All senior citizens over the age of 65, and all disabled residents, can join the club for $25 annually and take advantage of discounts on all prescription drugs at more than 50,000 participating pharmacies across the country. So far, members have saved an average of 21 percent on the cost of their medications.
- February 2004: Governor Blagojevich and Minnesota’s Governor Pawlenty co-host a Governors Summit on Prescription Drug Importation in DC, where they also build support in Congress for federal legislation allowing states and individuals to purchase drugs from Canada.
- February 2004: The Governor and an elderly Illinois couple initiate a class-action lawsuit against the FDA and HHS Secretary Thompson for violating citizens’ right to make personal medical decisions by refusing to allow individuals to purchase drugs from Canada at prices they can afford.
- April 2004: After four months of awaiting a reply from the FDA to his request for a waiver to implement an importation plan, Governor Blagojevich files a Citizens Petition on behalf of Illinois consumers compelling the FDA to respond within six months. The state can file suit against the FDA in federal district court if the FDA fails to respond, or if it rejects the request.