Canadian Health Minister Warns Against Practice of Prescription Drug Reimportation
Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh on Wednesday warned that the Canadian government might take action to end the sale of prescription drugs to U.S. residents in the event that the practice increases and causes a "tremendous strain on Canada's supply," the Boston Globe reports.
According to the Globe, Canadian officials previously have said that the sale of prescription drugs to the United States "will cause domestic shortages and harm Canadian patients," but the comments that Dosanjh made in a speech at Harvard Medical School were "stronger." Although to date Canada has not experienced prescription drug shortages, Dosanjh said that an increase in medication sales to the United States -- which currently total about $600 million annually -- could lead to such shortages in the future (Rowland, Boston Globe, 11/11).
"It is difficult for me to conceive of how a small country like Canada could meet the prescription drug needs of approximately 280 million Americans without putting our own supply at risk," Dosanjh said, adding, "To me it is a matter of common sense that Canada cannot be the drug store of the United States. Neither American consumers nor Canadian suppliers should have any illusions otherwise" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 11/10).
Dosanjh said that he has discussed the issue of reimportation with U.S. pharmaceutical companies, some of which have begun to limit supplies to Canadian wholesalers that sell prescription drugs to U.S. residents.
"We in Canada need to make sure we don't jeopardize our own situation," Dosanjh said, adding that Canada would not increase prescription drug prices to reduce the disparity with U.S. prices. He said, "If they try and contain this situation in the U.S., we may not have to take any action. The trade may die off by itself. If there are laws passed to allow or encourage bulk imports from Canada to the U.S., we will have to act at that point" (Boston Globe, 11/11). Dosanjh said that he has not discussed the issue with HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson (Strahinich, Boston Herald, 11/11).
According to the Globe, the Canadian government likely could not limit prescription drug sales to U.S. residents because of rules that provide provincial officials with authority over certain pharmaceutical regulations. However, Dosanjh said that Canada could mandate that physicians cannot write prescriptions for patients they have not examined, which would limit medication sales to U.S. residents through online pharmacies (Boston Globe, 11/11).
WBUR's "Here & Now" on Wednesday included an interview with Dosanjh about the U.S. flu vaccine shortage and the differences between the Canadian and U.S. health care systems (Young, "Here & Now," WBUR, 11/10). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
In addition, "Nightly Business Report" on Wednesday in the first of a series on prescription drugs titled, "Rx Without Borders," examined the increase in the number of U.S. residents who travel to Canada to purchase lower-cost medications. The segment includes comments from Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Lori Reilly, vice president for policy research at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (Yastine, "Nightly Business Report," PBS, 11/10). The complete transcript is available online.