Feds arrest Illinois governor, who ran afoul of pharmacists

12/9/2008

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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