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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

Los Angeles Daily News
Jun 30, 2005

by Daily News Staff and Wire Services

Canada may shut off prescription supply

TORONTO, Canada -- Canada's health minister threatened Wednesday to overhaul the country's regulations on exporting prescription drugs, saying Canada would no longer be a cheap "drugstore for the United States."

Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said Canada would ban the bulk export of prescription drugs when their supplies were low at home. But he left vague how the ban would be put into place -- and whether it would affect the thousands of individual purchases that take place across the U.S.-Canada border and over the Internet.

The ban is an attempt to head off an anticipated onslaught of drug demands from Americans if legislation pending in Congress legalizes Internet and bulk import of prescription drugs from Canada.

"Canada cannot be a drugstore for the United States of America; 280 million people cannot expect us to supply drugs to them on a continuous, uncontrolled basis," Dosanjh said at a news conference.

Canadians must be assured access to an adequate supply of safe and affordable prescription drugs, Dosanjh said.

Individual sales would not necessarily be affected by the ban, but it could affect drug wholesalers or manufacturers in Canada. They are not permitted to export to the United States under U.S. law, but could do so under the legislation being considered in Congress.

Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world, and U.S. lawmakers are pushing to legalize the importation of wholesale prescription drugs as well as Internet purchases from Canada and other countries.

The Canadian government maintains it is unethical for doctors to sign prescriptions without examining patients. Dosanjh said the definition of patient-physician relationship had to be clarified, but would not confirm whether that meant American patients would have to meet in person with Canadian doctors.

Any change in that definition, which Dosanjh said needed further study, could affect individual purchases.

Carole Jaquez, 79, and other senior citizens took a train last year from Los Angeles to Vancouver, where she bought prescription drugs for high blood pressure, acid reflux and asthma. A three-month supply of medication cost about $450, the same as she paid for a one-month supply in the United States.

She's refilled her prescription through that Vancouver pharmacy three times, and hopes to continue doing so.

"They're really backing us into a corner," Jaquez said. "I'm really worried. This is the nail in the coffin. I'm so angry."

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which organized the train trip to Vancouver, said that if Canada bans the export of prescription drugs, the United States must provide a better solution for senior citizens.

"It's not Canada's responsibility to provide low-cost prescriptions to the United States," said Jerry Flanagan, health care policy director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "The fact that we're relying on Canada is because the federal and state governments have failed to provide seniors with lower-cost prescription drugs. People should have the option to go into Canada, but the real solution is to provide a bulk-purchase pool here in the United States."

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