%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:; AUDIO:%)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ The U.S. solicitor general is urging the Supreme Court to let Maine's prescription drug law _ the first of its kind in the country _ go forward without further delay.

In a 23-page brief issued Friday, Theodore Olson asked the high court to let stand a ruling by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the law's constitutionality.

The law, Maine Rx, was approved by the state's Legislature two years ago. It would allow state officials to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices for 325,000 residents who don't have insurance for prescription drugs. The state could impose price controls if the negotiations don't yield lower prices.

The Supreme Court, which must still decide whether to hear the case, requested Olson's opinion last October. It is not bound by his recommendation, but supporters of the law were encouraged nonetheless.

``The decision by the solicitor general brings us one step closer to implementation of this important law _ and represents a victory for consumers in our state,'' said U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

With the cost of drug prescriptions rising sharply, many states are trying to find ways to squeeze concessions out of highly profitable pharmaceutical makers, and Maine is among those leading the way. The state's legislature was spurred into action by an aging population and prescription drug prices that shot upward in the mid-1990s.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the pharmaceutical industry's trade group, has sued to overturn the law. Drug makers have said Maine officials are misguided crusaders who are unfairly trying to demonize their industry.

A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in 2000, putting the law on hold until a constitutional challenge from PhRMA could be heard.

In May 2001, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston lifted the injunction and in June denied the request to reconsider its decision. PhRMA then appealed to the Supreme Court.