Drug supply called secure
Fears of a prescription drug shortage in Canada are rising now that it’s all but certain the next U.S. president will allow Americans to import cheaper Canadian drugs.
But a Windsorite whose company sells prescription drugs to Americans, and inspired a Simpsons episode for it, says the fears are all hype.
“Making it easier to import international medications would not have a significant impact to Canada at all, or its supply,” said Tony Howard, president of CanaRx. “What the three candidates are doing will not jeopardize Canada’s supply at all.”
It’s illegal in the U.S. for Americans to import prescription drugs from other countries, and President George Bush has opposed changing that.
But all three major U.S. presidential candidates — Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain — have said they’d allow it.
The fact that it’s still illegal in the U.S. hasn’t stopped several American municipalities, states and counties from creating employee drug plans that allow people to get their drugs from CanaRx.
The first major plan CanaRx established was in Springfield, Mass., which prompted The Simpsons creators to write a script in which Homer visits Canada to buy drugs for his dad.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich launched the I-Save program in 2004 to help residents obtain cheaper pills through CanaRx. That plan expanded to other states including Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas and Vermont.
Dennis Darby, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, said many in the health care industry believe a U.S. legalization of importing medication from other countries would cause a Canadian shortage.
“There is a widespread consensus in Canada among health care stakeholders that Canada can’t supply the medicines or vaccines to a market that’s effectively 10 times larger without endangering our own supplies for Canadians,” he said. “There has been coverage of that over the last couple of years, that yes indeed, the supply would be certainly strained if Americans en masse were to start filling their prescriptions at Canadian pharmacies.”
Darby referred to a study that came out of the University of Texas a few years ago that concluded legalization of large-scale drug imports from Canada would reduce our domestic supply to 38 days.
“We are not in a great position to supply America with their drugs,” said Darby. “We have no desire or capacity as pharmacists to be, en masse, filling U.S. prescriptions.”
By some estimates, sales by Canadian Internet pharmacies reached a $1billion peak in 2004. Howard put the estimates higher, at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.
But today, the exports are about $250 million, he said, and making it legal in the U.S. would bump that number to only about $300 million. “Not a big deal,” said Howard. He said the U.S. government’s Medicare Part D, which helps seniors over age 65 pay for drugs, has greatly reduced the number of American orders.
“The amount of medication going from Canada to the U.S. before Medicare Plan D was 10 times greater than it is today,” said Howard.
He also said that more than 70 per cent of the drugs going to the U.S. actually come from countries other than Canada.
Howard added that the loonie’s rise in value has reduced demand as well.
“When it was $1.50, it was good to buy your medication in Canada,” said Howard. “At an even dollar, they’re no longer a bargain.”