Drug Web site meets controversy

The FDA recently sent a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s office objecting to its new prescription drug Web site.

Amy Horst

Gov. Tim Pawlenty defended his Canadian prescription drug Web site yesterday after a Food and Drug Administration letter called it “unsafe, unsound and ill-considered.”

The site, which helps Minnesotans buy Canadian prescription drugs, often at a lower price, has received more than 35,000 hits since its January launch.

In a letter to the FDA, Pawlenty thanked the agency for its input but said Minnesotans disagree with its assessment of the site’s risks.

He also invited the FDA to formally inspect and certify Minnesota’s program.

Liz Bogut, Pawlenty’s spokeswoman, said the prescription drug Web site can benefit anyone, including students.

“We’re doing whatever we can to save Minnesotans money,” Bogut said. “In the end it’s good for everyone.”

Pawlenty’s site has also sparked debate and strong emotions among University faculty and students, particularly in the pharmacy department.

While prescription drug costs are a problem, many pharmacy professors said they do not agree with how Pawlenty has solved the problem.

“I can fully understand why Gov. Pawlenty would want to do something like this, especially when you weigh its effects on everyone,” pharmacy college professor Jon Schommer said.

Schommer said Minnesota’s program might not keep up with new developments, such as medication recalls, tampering or bioterrorism.

Margaret Artz, a pharmacy professor specializing in geriatrics, said she is concerned about the site.

“Right now we don’t have any jurisdiction over those pharmacies – we can’t close them down for infractions,” Artz said.

Legal solutions are equally muddy, University law professor Jim Chen said.

He said it is very difficult to tell whether the FDA could shut down the Web site or take legal action against Minnesota. There might also be concerns over supervision of the Canadian pharmacies.

While the FDA typically does not enforce its power if an individual is buying medication internationally, he said a state helping individuals purchase them could complicate the issue.

HealthPartners Riverside pharmacy employee John Deranek, a third-year pharmacy student, said he often hears customers complaining about prescription drug costs.

He said patients looking to save money on medication should buy generic drugs when available and shop around because some pharmacies will sell drugs more cheaply than others.