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Illinois Web site to import cheaper drugs

Plans are to offer medications from Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom, despite U.S. regulators' concerns about importing drugs.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday said the state will create a Web site for residents to buy cheaper prescription drugs outside the United States.

The online clearinghouse, which will be launched within a month, will help people order drugs from pharmacies in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The state plans to contract with a Canadian company to connect people with the pharmacies, which will be inspected and approved by state regulators for online purchases.

The service will let doctors mail or fax patent prescriptions to the clearinghouse for review. Once approved, a physician at the clearinghouse will rewrite the order and submit the prescription to a partner pharmacy abroad.

The project highlights the contentious debate over the affordability of prescription drugs in the United States. Many Americans have started to cross national borders to buy discount prescription drugs, especially from pharmacies in Canada. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it is against importing drugs.

"We have taken every possible step we could think of to convince the FDA, the Congress, and anyone and everyone who will listen that people across Illinois, and across our country, deserve access to safe and lower-cost prescription drugs," Blagojevich said in a statement.

Illinois is not the first state to jump on this trend. Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and North Dakota already have similar Web sites to connect with Canadian pharmacies, according to the statement.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer on Tuesday made a similar move by launching a comparison-shopping Web site for pharmacies in that state.

While these sites are all sponsored and regulated by local authorities, online drug sales on the Web are becoming a growing issue. Last year, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy contacted a number of popular Web sites including Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN, Google and America Online to stop running ads for illegal drug providers. Many of these ads showed up as commercial search results on Google and Yahoo's Overture Services subsidiary, both of which run paid-search businesses.

Google and Overture eventually changed their policies.