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The Washington Post reports that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has ordered the state's special advocate to look into buying inexpensive medications in Canada and bringing them back over the border for almost a quarter-million state employees and retirees. The Democratic governor made the move because of what the Post describes as "budget-breaking increases in prescription drug bills" of more than $340 million, but if he follows through, it will put the state "in direct conflict with federal regulators and signals a dramatic escalation in the civil war over U.S. drug prices."

The US Justice Department currently is trying to shut down Rx Depot, a retailer that brings Canadian prescription medications into the US and sells them at lower prices than they would sell for in the US. The argument against the import of such drugs, beyond the fact that it is illegal, is that the drugs are not always the same as those sold in the US, do not have the same safety measures and approval processes applied to them, and are potentially dangerous.

Those who support the import of such drugs say that drug prices in the US have been driven to unreasonable heights because pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists have too much influence over the system.

"The status quo on prescription drugs is intolerable and unacceptable," Blagojevich said. "I am optimistic we will be able to save literally millions of dollars for the taxpayers and set a precedent other states will follow," the governor said.

Both the US House of Representatives and the Senate have approved different 10-year, $400 billion drug plans, but the two houses of Congress have not been able to resolve their differences and send a bill to President Bush for his signature.
KC's View:
When we saw this story, we kept thinking of one of the ultimate Chicago movies, "The Untouchables," and the scenes with bootleg booze being smuggled in over the Canadian border. Maybe what the Justice Department needs is a modern-day Elliot Ness…

The problem is that it is hard to justify the costs of medications in the US, which makes the US position hard to defend. It's also a story that prompts a lot of passionate email…as we've seen here on MNB since we had a story about Rx depot last week.