Minnesota ends prescription importation program
■ The state was the first to create an online ordering program through Canadian pharmacies, and the last state to shut one down.
Citing lack of use, the state of Minnesota will end its 6-year-long prescription drug importation program on March 1.
Minnesota was the first state to start a prescription drug importation program, which provided Minnesota residents access to cheaper medications from Canadian suppliers through an online pharmacy. Since its launch in January 2004, Minnesota RX Connect has filled 25,000 prescriptions at a savings of $1.7 million. Other states followed with programs of their own, but these sites have since shut down.
Demand for importation programs took a dramatic decrease after Medicare began offering subsidized drug insurance to the population responsible for the majority of prescription drug sales in the U.S. According to a letter posted on RX Connect's site, sales peaked at 1,130 in January 2005 but have since declined to an average of 57 per month.
Increased competition between pharmacies in the U.S., which led to lower prices, and the increased availability of lower-cost generic drugs also softened demand for the program, according to the facilitators.
Illinois launched a similar Web site, I-SaveRX.net, in 2004 which Vermont, Missouri, Kansas and Vermont also joined. The Food and Drug Administration, as well as organized medicine, rallied against drug importation programs due to concern over the safety of the drugs, though no problems were ever reported. Illinois' program was shut down in January 2009 by the Canadian supplier.
Several other online Canadian pharmacies provide the same services but aren't associated with state agencies. Americans with a valid prescription can order medication and refills through those sites.
There is federal ban on drug importation in the U.S., which the states ignored when setting up the sites. Before joining Illinois' importation efforts, the state of Vermont filed suit against the FDA to win the right to import drugs. That and other congressional efforts that would end the prohibition on importing medications, have fallen short and have proven to be unpopular among many politicians.
American Medical Association policy supports drug importation, but only if all drugs are FDA-approved and if drugs can be tracked electronically and traced back to their original source.
Minnesota said it would continue running its prescription cost-compare, prescription safety and cost-saving tips portions of the Minnesota RX Connect Web site.