Canada Announces Proposal To Ban Bulk Prescription Drug Exports
Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh on Wednesday announced that Canada plans to take legislative action to ban bulk exports of prescription drugs to the United States in the event of a domestic shortage, the Washington Post reports. In addition, Dosanjh said that Canadian lawmakers might seek to require "an established doctor/patient relationship for any cross-border drug sales" to help limit individual purchases of prescription drugs from Canada by U.S. residents (Struck, Washington Post, 6/30).
Dosanjh "stopped short of saying the new rules would require face-to-face consultations between Canadian doctors and U.S. patients," according to USA Today. The definition of an "established" physician-patient relationship remains undetermined, he said (Appleby, USA Today, 6/30). Dosanjh said that he will meet with Canadian pharmacy and physician groups before details are finalized.
The Canadian House of Commons plans to address the issue in late September (Carlisle/Conkey, Wall Street Journal, 6/30). According to USA Today, a regulation to require Canadian physicians to examine patients in person before they prescribe medications would not require legislative approval (USA Today, 6/30).
Dosanjh said, "Canada cannot be the drugstore for the United States of America. Two-hundred-eighty-million people can't expect us to supply drugs to them" (Washington Post, 6/30). He added, "We have to make sure that we protect the safety and supply of the drugs for Canadians and also the safety of the consumers of these prescriptions" (Krauss, New York Times, 6/30). Dosanjh said that Canada would limit the sale of prescription drugs to U.S. residents "when there is a shortage here." He "could give few details on how and when that would be determined," according to the Post (Washington Post, 6/30).
Health Canada will establish a system to track the Canadian prescription drug supply, but "how that system would work" remains unclear, the Washington Times reports (Higgins, Washington Times, 6/30). According to the AP/Long Island Newsday, Dosanjh "acknowledged that no shortages currently exist" in Canada (Duff-Brown, AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/30). He cited "anecdotal evidence of shortages across the country" (May, Newark Star-Ledger, 6/30).
Dosanjh also said that he was aware of no cases of injuries or illnesses experienced by U.S. residents as a result of prescription drugs purchased from Canada (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/30). "There will be an impact" from a ban on exports of prescription drugs to the United States, "but our intention is not to kill the industry," Dosanjh said (USA Today, 6/30).
A Canadian law to ban exports of prescription drugs to the United States in the event of a domestic shortage "would have little or no effect on the current trade," according to the Boston Globe. However, a regulation that would require Canadian physicians to examine patients in person before they prescribe medications "could signal the end of Canada's importation industry," the Globe reports (Rowland, Boston Globe, 6/30).
Andy Troszok, president of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, said, "We're taking the minister at his word and have every expectation that we will be able to continue serving our American customers" through online pharmacies (Graham, Chicago Tribune, 6/30). However, Troszok added, "If the government wants to press" the physician-patient relationship "to be face-to-face, there's no doubt that would be detrimental to our industry. Over time, it would shut it down" (Wall Street Journal, 6/30). "We want the opportunity to work with the government on this," Troszok said (Washington Post, 6/30).
Ken Johnson, senior vice president of communications for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said that the pharmaceutical industry "remains opposed to importing drugs from foreign countries either in bulk or through the Internet."
David Fink of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said, "Americans are only buying drugs from Canada because President Bush and Congress, with their cozy ties to the pharmaceutical industry, refuse to support a prescription drug bulk-purchasing plan" (Wall Street Journal, 6/30).
FDA Director of Pharmacy Affairs Tom McGinnis said, "We don't know anything about the strength, quality or purity" of prescription drugs purchased from Canada (Freking, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/30).
Supporters of bills in Congress that would legalize prescription drug reimportation criticized the proposed Canadian ban on exports of prescription drugs to the United States as a response to pressure from the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-S.D.) said, "This is a big, strong, wealthy industry, and they're fighting as hard as they can fight so that they can charge the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs to U.S. consumers" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/30). Dorgan said that such a ban would not affect efforts to pass legislation to legalize prescription drug reimportation. He said, "I think the votes are there" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/30).
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) said, "I think this is a case of the pharmaceutical companies manipulating markets. We don't have these kinds of restrictions on any other kind of trade" (Washington Post, 6/30).
Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said, "Canada does not set our prescription drug policy. The right thing to do for American families is to pass prescription drug importation legislation" (Chicago Tribune, 6/30).
In related news, The Senate Republican Policy Committee on Tuesday issued a report that said opposition to prescription drug reimportation is from safety concerns, not pressure from the pharmaceutical industry. The report -- titled "The Meaning of 'Canada' and Other Perils of Canadian Drug Importation" -- states, "Opposition to drug importation is not, as some importation proponents suggest, a case of lawmakers protecting large pharmaceutical companies."
According to the Arizona Republic, the report, drafted by committee Chair Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), might "be the clearest signal yet that Senate Republican leaders are prepared to once again help the Bush administration block bills supporting drug importation" (House, Arizona Republic, 6/30).
APM's "Marketplace" on Wednesday reported on the comments from Dosanjh. The segment includes comments from Dosanjh, Troszok and a U.S. resident who purchases prescription drugs from Canada (Palmer, "Marketplace," APM, 6/29). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. NPR's "All Things Considered" on Wednesday also reported on the comments. The segment includes comments from Dosanjh; Cora Christian, a member of the AARP board; and David MacKay, director of CIPA (Silberner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 6/29). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.