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October 15, 2013

Maine Decides to Open Its Citizens and Itself to Huge New Risks


That old refrain “Some people never learn” can also be applied to states.

The state of Maine has decided to defy federal law and allow Mainers, including private sector companies but also state and local governments, to import prescription drugs from foreign sources.

Maine has no authority to make that decision, since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees drug importation. But the state defends its actions by claiming that:

  1. Foreign Internet pharmacies are safe.
  2. Mainers have been crossing the Canadian border for decades to buy prescription drugs for personal use.
  3. Brand name prescription drugs are cheaper in most other countries and therefore the state and Mainers will save money.

We’ve heard these arguments before.

Of course, Maine cannot know whether foreign-based Internet pharmacies are safe; that’s the job of experts at the FDA. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, now in jail, also pushed for state importation and assured everyone that Internet pharmacies would be safe. But non-experts don’t know if the drugs have been mishandled or compromised. Indeed, one Canadian Internet pharmacy approved by Maine stopped shipping insulin because it failed to handle it properly.

Yes, Mainers cross the border to buy from brick-and-mortar Canadian pharmacies. The bigger risk is buying through the Internet. Internet pharmacies must get their drugs from somewhere, and the supply chains may not be adequately tracked.

It’s also true that brand name drugs are often less expensive in other countries, for a number of reasons well understood by economists. But what appears to be cheaper may in the long run be more expensive.

Maine is allowing actions that are illegal under federal law. While the feds give individuals some flexibility in buying drugs for personal from Canadian pharmacies, the new law opens the state up to a huge legal liability if—when?—something goes wrong.

That’s why the states and cities that were pushing drug importation abandoned the practice once the prescription drug benefit became available for seniors. Now Maine apparently has to learn some difficult lessons all over again.


  • TaxBytes-New

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