Pfizer To Sell Medicines Directly to Canadian Pharmacies To Reduce Online Sales to U.S. Consumers
In an effort to "crac[k] down" on Canadian pharmacies that sell prescription drugs to U.S. consumers over the Internet, New York-based Pfizer, the world's largest drug company, sent letters to 46 Canadian pharmacies telling them that they must now purchase their medicines directly from the company instead of from wholesalers, the Wall Street Journal reports. The letters, dated Aug. 4, were sent to the pharmacies because Pfizer had been monitoring the export of drugs from Canada and found that the pharmacies were "conducting significant cross-border sales," a spokesperson for Pfizer said. The move allows Pfizer to impose standard contract terms that ban its customers from exporting drugs and could lead to the company "cutting off supply to customers who do not respect our sales terms," a spokesperson for Pfizer said (Hensley/Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 8/7). "The objective of us having more customers as direct clients is for us to better enforce our terms of sale, which are that our products are only to be sold in Canada for Canadian patients and that they are not for export," Don Sancton, a spokesperson for Pfizer Canada, said (Silverman, Newark Star-Ledger, 8/7). Nehl Horton, a spokesperson for Pfizer, said, "Pharmacies that are engaged in this increased level of cross-border sales are potential avenues for counterfeiting and for medicines from third-world countries that are not appropriate" (Heldt Powell, Boston Herald, 8/7). The action by Pfizer follows similar actions by GlaxoSmithKline in January, AstraZeneca in April and Wyeth in June, Reuters/Boston Globe reports. GSK said that it would not sell drugs to Canadian pharmacies that sold drugs to U.S. residents, while AstraZeneca and Wyeth both said that they would investigate "unusually big" orders from Canadian customers to ensure that shipments were not being exported, Reuters/Boston Globe reports (Reuters/Boston Globe, 8/7).
According to the New York Times, drug companies have "sophisticated means" of controlling drug exports, including the use of data-tracking companies to "keep close tabs" on doctors' prescriptions to keep drug companies "keenly aware of actual local demand in much of the industrialized world." Drug companies also track buying trends to investigate discrepancies between drug orders at a particular pharmacy and the number of prescriptions issued by nearby doctors (Harris, New York Times, 8/7). However, the Journal reports that despite the new restrictions by drug companies, Canadian pharmacies can still get drugs through other Canadian pharmacies that are not cut off or under direct scrutiny from drug companies, as well as through buying groups and other third parties (Wall Street Journal, 8/7).
In related news, in a letter sent to Reps. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), AARP yesterday said that it supports the reimportation of drugs from Canada only if suitable safety procedures are put in place, the Washington Post reports. "It is a national embarrassment that in a country with the most advanced medical system in the world, so many of our citizens can obtain affordable prescription drugs only by seeking them in foreign countries," the letter states (Balz, Washington Post, 8/7). Canada "is already the source of considerable de facto reimportation, and safety violations appear to be minimal in extent and insignificant in nature," the letter adds. Emanuel and Gutknecht are in Chicago today as part of a series of town hall meetings to promote the Pharmaceutical Market Access Act of 2003 (HR 2427), which recently passed in the House (New York Times, 8/7). The bill, sponsored by Gutknecht, would allow U.S. residents to import prescription drugs from a number of industrialized nations, provided that the medications are manufactured by companies that use counterfeit-resistant technologies and that the companies have registered their production operations with the FDA (California Healthline, 7/30). AARP's "limited endorsement" of the Gutknecht bill gives "a critical boost to the effort as lawmakers negotiate Medicare legislation that would provide drug coverage for millions of seniors," the Post reports (Washington Post, 8/7).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.