As part of Wisconsin's prescription drug program with Canada, Gov. Jim Doyle extended medication importation agreements with three Canadian pharmacies last Friday.

"Hopefully, drug prices will fall, but until then, the renewal of the agreement provides seniors with another option to obtain low-cost prescription drugs," said Gail Sumi, director of the National Association of Retired Persons Associate State Advocacy.

The extended agreement allows name-brand prescription refills to be imported through any of the three approved Canadian pharmacies. Initial prescriptions must be filled by local pharmacies to ensure patients do not experience harmful reactions to the drugs.

Through the use of the website Drugsavings.wi.gov, Wisconsin citizens are able to read about all available medicinal options, compare prescription prices and order medications.

"These websites are valuable tools that have allowed thousands of people in Wisconsin get the drugs they need that are safe and affordable," said Stephanie Marquis, state Department of Health and Family Services spokesperson, in an e-mail. "They are a welcome addition to the choices people have in buying their prescriptions, and we hope they will be useful for years to come."

Due to safety issues, refrigerated drugs are not included in the agreement. Generic drugs are also excluded since they are typically cheaper in Wisconsin than in Canada.

However, according to Mike Prentiss, spokesperson for Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, the renewed prescription drug program poses significant problems.

"This raises a number of concerns for Wisconsin citizens," Prentiss said. "Patients won't be receiving the care they need … and [the program] increases the possibility of counterfeit drugs."

Sumi maintained, though, that the governor's decision to extend the agreement adds more options for seniors to find low-cost drugs.

"People do have a comfort level for using resources like this," she said, adding research conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons indicated 31 percent of people between the ages of 50 and 64 used the Internet in 1998, and the percentage more than doubled in 2005.

While Internet use is on the rise, some have raised concerns over the lack of human interaction associated with ordering medication online.

"There is a safety concern when patient-[pharmacy] interactions are limited," Prentiss said. "There is a possibility that people won't get the correct medication they need through the mail."

In order to ensure the safety of the program, Doyle will once again send a team of state officials to inspect the Canadian pharmacies. Although all three pharmacies continue to have reputable licenses with respective Canadian licensing boards, state officials will determine if the pharmacies meet Wisconsin's standards.