- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

TORONTO (AP) — Canada will soon announce measures to restrict Internet pharmacies from selling prescription drugs to U.S. consumers, officials said Thursday. Such sales have become popular with Americans seeking cheaper medicine.

Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh did not specify what steps would be taken, but his spokesman said the measures being considered include preventing Canadian doctors from cosigning prescriptions without examining patients.

Other measures might be prohibiting prescriptions for foreigners who are not in Canada, barring a price reduction if the drugs are exported and banning bulk exports, spokesman Ken Polk said.

Mr. Dosanjh has been studying options to restrict the practice for at least six months.

“I am concerned and we’re acting on it. There will be news soon,” Mr. Dosanjh said.

President Bush’s administration opposes the prescription drug imports, and federal regulators warn they cannot guarantee the safety of drugs from outside U.S. borders.

But Canada has dismissed concerns about the safety of drugs sold in Canada, saying Canada’s regulatory regime was tougher than the U.S. one.

Drugs sold via the Internet often go for much less than in the United States.

As part of its socialized medical system, the Canadian government sets drug prices that are lower than those charged in the United States.

A proposal to Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Cabinet will likely be made next week.

Last November, Mr. Bush discussed the issue of drug imports with Mr. Martin. But the White House has denied accusations that Mr. Bush pressured Mr. Martin to make it harder for Americans to buy drugs from Canada.

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 if a ban on cosigning prescriptions could be accomplished by just changing regulations.

Under current practice, a prescription from a U.S. doctor is faxed to a Canadian doctor, who reviews the document along with the patient’s health history. The Canadian doctor signs and sends the prescription to a so-called Internet pharmacy, which ships the drug to the patient.

Canadian officials say such sales endanger the Canadian drug supply, though they concede no shortages currently exist. The government also maintains it is unethical for doctors to sign prescriptions without examining patients.

Importing drugs into the United States is technically illegal, but the U.S. government generally does not stop small amounts purchased for personal use.

Various bills have been introduced into Congress to permit the importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada and elsewhere. Last month, House Democrats outlined a health care agenda that would permit such importations and would give Medicare authority to negotiate lower prices with drug manufacturers in this country.

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