- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

TORONTO (AP) — Canadian health officials are drafting a proposal to prevent Internet pharmacies from selling mail-order prescription drugs to U.S. consumers, a spokesman said yesterday, a move that would essentially kill a $700 million industry that has become increasingly popular with patients south of the border.

The three-pronged measure being considered by Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh would prevent Canadian doctors from countersigning prescriptions for U.S. patients without examining them in person, spokesman Ken Polk said by telephone from India.

It also would prohibit prescriptions for foreigners who are not present in Canada and create a list banning certain drugs that are widely used by Canadians from being exported, Mr. Polk said.

A proposal was expected to be presented to Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Cabinet by the end of the month, Mr. Polk said, although Asian tsunami aid efforts were diverting government resources and it was not clear how much time would be required for approval.

“He’s made it pretty clear that he wants that unethical practice to stop,” Mr. Polk said of Mr. Dosanjh’s efforts.

New legislation — but not changes to existing regulations — would require support from opposition parties as well as Mr. Martin’s minority government to pass. It was not clear whether a ban on co-signing prescriptions could be accomplished by just changing regulations.

The issue has become politically sensitive for President Bush, whose administration has argued that reimporting U.S.-made drugs from Canada would put consumers at risk because U.S. regulators could not guarantee their safety. The pharmaceutical industry, which donated heavily to Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign, vehemently opposes reimporting drugs, which undercuts their U.S. sales.

But importing cheaper drugs from Canada is popular with lawmakers of both parties and has considerable support in Congress. The House already has passed a bill allowing reimportation once, and lawmakers in both parties say it would pass the Senate if Republican leaders would allow it to come up for vote there.

If legislation allowing reimportation were approved by Congress, Mr. Bush could face a difficult decision about whether to sign the bill.

While reimporting drugs is technically illegal, those laws are not enforced. Ten million illegal shipments of prescription drugs worth $1.4 billion entered the United States in 2003, about half of them from Canada.

The issue is particularly sensitive for U.S. lawmakers representing Northern states, where consumers sometimes travel to Canada to purchase cheaper drugs. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota has set up a Web site to help Minnesotans buy cheaper drugs from Canadian pharmacies.

Representatives of both the U.S. and Canadian governments say Mr. Bush discussed the issue with Mr. Martin when he visited last fall. That has sparked accusations that Mr. Bush pressured Mr. Martin to change Canadian policy — an accusation that the White House denies.

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