Canadian Pharmacy, Patient Groups Call on National Government To Ban Prescription Drug Sales to U.S. Residents
A coalition of Canadian groups that represent pharmacies, patients and seniors on Monday called on the Canadian government to ban the export of prescription drugs to the United States, the AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports (McClelland, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/18). The coalition asked the Canadian government to prohibit the sale of prescription drugs to the United States by Canadian online pharmacies because of concerns that "drug-importation legislation in the U.S. Congress and surging demand from Americans are putting pressure on Canadian prices to rise." (Chipello, Wall Street Journal, 10/19).
In addition, the coalition raised concerns about the effect that the sale of medications to U.S. residents could have on the Canadian prescription drug supply. "It is completely untenable to think that Canada could supply their needs and our own for even one month, let alone on an ongoing basis," Louise Binder of the Canadian Treatment Action Council and Best Medicines Coalition said (AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/18). She added, "Cross-border Internet pharmacies are not the solution, short or long term, to the problem of high drug costs in the U.S." (Wall Street Journal, 10/19).
Binder also said that she has received reports of cancer medication shortages in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as U.S. residents continue to purchase such treatments from Canadian online pharmacies.
According to Lothar Dueck, president of the Coalition for Manitoba Pharmacy, restrictions on supplies to Canadian pharmacies by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Wyeth have forced him in some cases to "call colleagues to scrounge enough medicine" to treat local patients.
In addition, Binder raised concerns about the reputation of Canada if prescription drugs from nations such as China or India are resold by Canadian online pharmacies to U.S. residents without safety verification (AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/18).
Officials for Canadian online pharmacies maintain that they are "keenly aware" of the risks to the Canadian prescription drug supply, the Journal reports. "We're not about to conduct this trade on the backs of Canadians," David MacKay, executive director of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, which represents Canadian online pharmacies, said.
He added that the association last month reaffirmed a policy that allows individuals to purchase prescription drugs from member pharmacies but prohibits bulk purchases by U.S. state or local governments (Wall Street Journal, 10/19). "We can't sustain that volume of trade. Not only that, but the customs officials would seize any bulk order," MacKay said, adding, "We're being watched very closely by the Canadian government" (Higgins, Investor's Business Daily, 10/19). The policy does not apply to U.S. local government programs that provide "passive endorsement" of Canadian online pharmacies to help residents purchase lower-cost prescription drugs, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 10/19).
According to IBD, Canadian physicians who fill online prescriptions for U.S. residents in recent months have faced increased scrutiny from the Canadian government, and several have faced disciplinary action.
Meanwhile, with support from the Canadian Pharmacists Association, provincial health ministers have called on the Canadian government to impose restrictions on online prescription drug sales to U.S. residents.
"When we hear both candidates for the (U.S.) presidency talk about allowing Americans easier access to medicines purchased in Canada, there has to be a federal government response to that," Colin Hansen, health minister for British Columbia, said on Friday.
Jeff Poston, executive director of CPA, said, "When our doctors and pharmacists are serving U.S. patients, they are not available to meet the needs of Canadian patients" (Investor's Business Daily, 10/19).
The Canadian government to date "has resisted calls for intervention in cross-border trade," according to the Journal. A spokesperson for Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said that the government has monitored the Canadian prescription drug supply and found "no evidence at this point that there is any risk to the safety of the drugs or to the security of supply for Canadians" (Wall Street Journal, 10/19). "The World" -- a production of BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston -- on Monday included an interview with MacKay (Werman, "The World," PRI, 10/18). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.
An article in the Oct. 25 issue of the New Yorker examined the U.S. prescription drug price system and some of the factors that have led to increased medication costs for U.S. residents. According to the New Yorker, the current debate over the high cost of prescription drugs in the United States in large part has focused on brand-name medications, which are 25% to 40% more expensive in the United States than in Canada and some other nations.
However, the competitive U.S. generic prescription drug industry ensures that when medications lose patent protection "no other country even comes close to having prices as low as the United States," the New Yorker reports. According to the New Yorker, the "core problem in bringing drug spending under control ... is persuading the users and buyers and prescribers of drugs to behave rationally, and the reason we're in the mess we're in is that, so far, we simply haven't done a very good job of that" (Gladwell, New Yorker, 10/25).