In 2013, Maine became the 1st state in the country to enact a “drug importation ordinance.”

By February of 2015 the law had been thrown out, but only after the President of the Maine Pharmacy Association experienced first ­hand what patients can be exposed to when buying drugs from a Canadian online pharmacy.

On June 27, 2013, the Maine Legislature passed LD 171, the Act to Facilitate Personal Importation of Prescription Medication from International Mail Order Prescription Pharmacies. The legislation permitted importation of prescription drugs from specific “safe” countries’ licensed retail pharmacies in Australia, Canada, Northern Ireland, New Zealand or the United Kingdom. However the legislation provided no oversight or enforcement provisions; in other words, patients would have to take the word of the companies sell them medication from overseas that they were indeed licensed, legitimate pharmacies in those countries, and if they weren’t, there was no legal recourse for the patients.

Along with many other pharmacists and medical professionals in Maine, the President of Maine’s Pharmacy Association, Kenneth “Mac” McCall opposed the legislation on safety grounds. As he explained to the audience at a policy conference in 2014, the law’s failure to require licensure from vaguely-defined international pharmacies tore a “huge hole in the secure drug supply chain.”

Mr. McCall illustrated for the conference audience what was so very dangerous about Maine’s foray into prescription drug importation: “Who’s checking? Who’s providing oversight? What are the regulatory mechanisms to ensure public safety? There is absolutely no accountability.”

Mr. McCall went further on behalf of Maine patients. After LD 171 was passed, Mr. McCall ordered his own prescriptions from “Canada Drug Center,” a new advertiser in the local paper.

According to the Morning Sentinel, McCall was instructed to visit the Canada Drug Center website where he ordered prescriptions for Cobix, the generic equal of Celebrex; Izra, the generic version of Nexium; and Clopivas, the generic equivalent of the popular blood thinner Plavix.

Though the law states that the medications must come from Australia, Canada, Northern Ireland, New Zealand or the United Kingdom , Canada Drug Center filled McCall’s prescription from countries very far afield from Canada. The Morning Sentinel reports that the drugs McCall received claimed to be manufactured in India, and were shipped, not from Canada, but from addresses in Turkey, India and Mauritius (a small island nation off the coast of Africa.)

McCall filed a complaint against Canada Drug Center with the Maine Board of Pharmacy after receiving his so-called “Canadian” medications from such exotic locations. He pointed out that none of his prescriptions had been filled or shipped from locations approved by the importation legislation.

McCall also shared with the Interchange that immediately after the passage of LD 171, a local news channel, WGME in Portland, tried ordering medication through the CanaRX system. They then took the medication to be tested at the College of Pharmacy at University of New England Maine, which found the medication WGME purchased was composed of only a tiny percentage of the active ingredient.

In February 2015, a federal judge struck down LD 171. According to the Bangor Daily News, U.S. Chief Justice Nancy Torreson ruled against LD 171, stating that Maine’s “singling out of certain countries from which pharmaceuticals may be imported compromises the tightly regulated structure” set up under federal law and “compromises federal government’s ability to ‘speak with one voice’ when it regulates foreign commerce.”

In response to recent importation proposals at the federal level, Partnership for Safe Medicines wrote: Letter to the US Congress Regarding Drug “Importation” Proposals

Watch Mac McCall’s presentation on Maine Drug Importation at Interchange 2014:

See Mac McCall’s slideshow on Maine Drug Importation at Interchange 2014: