By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HAMILTON - On the day Butler County commissioners launched a discount prescription drug program for low-income people, the county prosecutor told them they must stop promoting a Canadian discount program as an alternative.
Promoting the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada, where they're less expensive, violates federal law, Prosecutor Robin Piper said in a letter received Thursday by the commissioners.
"We conclude that the Canadian prescription drug program should neither be offered nor promoted by the Board of County Commissioners," Piper wrote.
The commissioners asked for the prosecutor's opinion after pharmacists' organizations accused them of encouraging illegal activities and the Ohio Attorney General's office said they should stop promoting the Canadian program.
Commissioner Mike Fox, who instigated the discount drug program for low-income people that started Thursday, lashed out at pharmacists.
"These people have a stranglehold on the prescription drug market," Fox said. "If there was ever a case for civil disobedience, this is it."
He told those attending the discount drug program's kick-off event at the Government Services Center that people wanting information about the Canadian program should contact Patient Assistance Services of Dublin, Ohio, at a toll-free phone number.
"Maybe the prosecutor will be here to put handcuffs on me," he joked.
Butler's new drug discount program for low-income residents not on Medicaid is called Prescription Relief.
The county is paying Patient Assistance Services $100,000 in federal community development block grant funding for this program.
People would pay $7 per prescription per month. The county is paying the $25 processing fee for up to 4,000 residents.
Joe Gerlach, 88, of Williamsdale, showed up at the kick-off event Thursday to fill out an application for himself and his wife, Georgia.
He said their prescription drugs cost more than $800 a month.
"I don't tell my wife how much we pay for medications because she'd quit taking them," he said.
He said the Prescription Relief program would ease his financial burden.
"I still have some hospital bills I haven't been able to pay," Gerlach said. "Now maybe I'll be able to."
On Thursday, the county mailed pamphlets about Prescription Relief and other discount drug programs offered by Patient Assistance Services to all Butler households. People in other counties also can use this program, but must pay a $25 processing fee.
For information about Prescription Relief only, people also can call a toll-free number, (877) 463-1905.
For more information about Prescription Relief and other programs, people can call the toll-free number, (866) drug-686, or visit the Web site, www.prescriptionplan4u.com.
The programs open to all income levels are MedPerks, the Diabetic Program and the controversial Canadian Prescription Discount Program.
For a monthly fee starting at $9.95, MedPerks offers a card that will entitle its users to large discount rates for prescription drugs at many local pharmacies.
The Diabetics Program is open to diabetics on Medicare or Medicaid. They can receive their diabetic supplies without paying any money up front. For a $25 set-up fee, the Canadian Prescription Discount Program will enable people to buy drugs from Canada, where prices are lower than in the United States.
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