PHARMACY

Feds arrest Illinois governor, who ran afoul of pharmacists

BY Jim Frederick

CHICAGO The arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on federal corruption charges caps a sometimes-stormy chapter in the contentious relationship between the embattled politician and the state’s pharmacists.

Blagojevich, 51, extends a recent history in Illinois of politicians who become embroiled in scandal and political corruption. He succeeded former Republican Gov. George Ryan in 2003, after Ryan’s conviction on fraud and racketeering charges.

Ryan is now serving a six-year sentence on those charges. Ironically, his successor won office on a promise to reform the state’s political landscape.

The charges against Blagojevich were described by one federal prosecutor, U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, as “staggering.” Among them: that the Illinois governor conspired to sell, or trade for favors, the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Blagojevich is also charged with using his authority as governor to shake down companies under contract with the state for campaign contributions, and for other misuses of his office.

In tape recordings, Blagojevich allegedly discussed the possibility of assuming the Senate seat himself if he couldn’t find bidders willing to come up with enough in payback for the powerful post. He also expressed interest in the possibility of scoring some other powerful within the Obama administration, including secretary of Health & Human Services, according to prosecutors.

The governor’s arrest on corruption charges was a shocking and unforeseen culmination to a sometimes-fraught relationship between the state’s most powerful officeholder and community pharmacists. In more than one sense, Blagojevich has proven no friend of pharmacy. He was a vocal proponent of drug re-importation, asserting that giving Americans the right to directly import prescription drugs from Canada would prove an effective cost-saving device. Those assertions continued despite repeated warnings from U.S. pharmacy advocates and the Food and Drug Administration that drug importation was both an ineffective tool for reducing health care spending and a possible means of introducing illicit or counterfeit drugs into the supply chain.

In June of 2004, the FDA denied a request from the Illinois governor to launch a pilot re-importation program. Following that regulatory impasse, Blagojevich revealed plans to launch an online drug importation network to help Illinois residents buy drugs directly from Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In 2005, Blagojevich also ran afoul of some pharmacists who hold strict religious or moral convictions against the sale or dispensing of emergency contraceptives. In a move that spawned a series of lawsuits, he ordered pharmacists in the state to fill all legal prescriptions, including those for the so-called “morning after” emergency contaceptive pill, also known as “Plan B.”

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Healthcare affordability, availability are Americans’ top concerns

BY Jenna Duncan

WASHINGTON A Gallup Poll released Monday shows reported that more people are most concerned about the rising costs and possible limits to access of health care than they are worried about the effects of life-threatening conditions such as AIDS, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Of 1,000 people surveyed representing different sexes, ages and social groups, 55 percent said that availability and affordability of health care was the “the most urgent health problem” the nation has to deal with. Just 2 percent cited diabetes, AIDS and heart disease, while 11 percent cited cancer and 12 percent obesity. The Gallup Poll was taken between the dates of Nov. 11 and Nov. 13. A margin of error was reported at 3 percent.

Reports said that the nation’s total healthcare spending in 2007 was more than $2.3 trillion. That figure represents about 16 percent of the nation’s total domestic product and the National Coalition on Health Care has said that the total is expected to climb almost 7 percent by the end of the year.

The Census Bureau has reported that nearly 50 million Americans are currently without health insurance.

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CDC, Families Fighting Flu remind communities Tuesday is Children’s Influenza Vaccination Day

BY Antoinette Alexander

WASHINGTON The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Families Fighting Flu members and other public health organizations are partnering to commemorate Children’s Influenza Vaccination Day on Dec. 9, in an effort to remind parents to get children vaccinated.

The non-profit Families Fighting Flu organization was established for the children who die each year due to the influenza virus, and is made up of families and healthcare practitioners dedicated to educating people about the severity of influenza and the importance of vaccinating children against the flu every year.

“The willingness of the members of Families Fighting Flu to speak openly about their loss and the importance of vaccinating children is both courageous and selfless, and I thank them for helping to spread the word about this important issue,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC.

Yearly flu vaccination should begin as soon as the vaccine is available and continue throughout the flu season. The CDC recommends that children aged 6 months up to 19 years of age get vaccinated against the flu. The CDC also recommends that those in close contact with children younger than 5 years of age, such as family members and caregivers, get a flu vaccine each year. In addition, people who live with or are in close contact with a child of any age with a chronic health problem, such as asthma, diabetes or other conditions, should get a flu vaccine.

Each year, an average of 20,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized in the United States because of flu-related complications. As many as 1-in-5 children younger than 5 years old may have to see the doctor, visit the emergency room or other urgent care for treatment for flu. And about 100 children, on average, die from flu-related complications.

“Losing my infant son, Ian, to the flu has been an unbearable heartbreak, but he is the reason I want parents to know how important it is to protect their infants, especially those who are too young for vaccination, by getting themselves, their family members and every caregiver vaccinated against the flu,” said Julie Moise, a board member of Families Fighting Flu.

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