Medicare Drug Benefit Helps Slow Drug Sales From Canada
Online drug sales in 2006 from Canadian pharmacies to U.S. consumers dropped about 50%, from $420 million Canadian dollars in 2005 to $211 million Canadian dollars last year, according to data from IMS Health, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Drug sales across the border to U.S. patients -- once "a hot trend" -- have been suppressed by several factors, including threats from U.S. pharmaceutical companies to stop supplying drugs to Canadian firms, rising drug costs in Canada, a weaker U.S. dollar compared with the Canadian dollar and the 2006 introduction of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the Inquirer reports.
Legislation (S 1082) introduced this year by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) would reduce restrictions on imports and enhance safety by calling for all exporters and importers to register with federal authorities. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America opposes prescription drug imports, citing the possibilities that counterfeiting could rise and existing safety regulations could be compromised. FDA has "conducted periodic sweeps against drugs delivered through the mail," but "its leaders admit they lack the staff to do a thorough job," the Inquirer reports.
Ilisa Bernstein, FDA's director of pharmacy affairs, said the agency does not know for certain whether online sales are increasing or decreasing. She said, "We really don't have the resources to quantify the number of products coming in," adding that FDA uses a "risk-based approach" to select the drugs that pose a high level of danger and need closer safety scrutiny. Bernstein said, "What's scary is, a lot of these online sellers will sell you drugs without a prescription."
Randall Lutter, FDA's deputy commissioner for policy, in a statement said, "The data lead us to believe that many people are buying drugs online not to save money but to bypass the need for a prescription from their doctor, since these Web sites typically do not require the purchaser to have a prescription" (Stark, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/5).