Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty launched a website Friday intended to connect residents to Canadian pharmacies, boasting that the state was the first to take on the high cost of prescription drugs directly.
Pawlenty hopes to expand the site -- www.MinnesotaRxConnect.com -- but for now it simply offers visitors information and a Minnesota stamp of approval on the services of two Canadian pharmacies that state regulators inspected recently.
The governor said that Minnesota is the first state to “actually take some action as opposed to just talking about” the high costs of prescription drugs.
Human Services Commissioner Kevin Goodno said the site offers savings that average 35% off prices available in the United States, mostly because the Canadian government imposes price controls.
Visitors to the site can choose medications and compare prices between the pharmacies, but to make a purchase they must print out an order sheet and mail or fax it directly to a company.
Goodno warned that some drugs, especially generic versions of name-brand medications, would nonetheless be cheaper in local pharmacies.
Dozens of websites already offer access to Canadian pharmacies, and the group Minnesota Senior Federation has long had a partnership with CanadaRx, a Toronto-based company that mails drugs to U.S. residents.
The cities of Springfield, Mass., and Montgomery, Ala., have programs for their employees to buy drugs from Canada, but a trade group, the Canadian International Pharmacy Assn., backed Pawlenty’s claim that Minnesota has the first such website.
The federal Food and Drug Administration and drug companies have been fighting attempts by state and local governments to import drugs from Canada, saying the government could not guarantee their safety.
William Hubbard, the FDA’s associate commissioner, said he recently told Pawlenty that states or cities that reimport Canadian medicines could be held civilly or criminally liable under federal law. He said, however, that the federal government is not contemplating any legal action.
“We are very concerned about any program that sends American citizens to a foreign source for drugs that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration,” he said.
The two pharmacies listed on the Minnesota site, Total Care Pharmacy and Granville Pharmacy, have pledged to honor orders through the site only if they came from Minnesota residents, state officials said.
Tim Gallagher, vice president of operations for Astrup Drug in Austin, said some Minnesota pharmacists were considering suing to block the Canadian partnership.
“The state is aiding and abetting in illegal activity,” said Gallagher, who sits on the board of the Minnesota Pharmacists Assn.