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.”

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