- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

Canada’s health minister yesterday announced plans to crack down on bulk sales of prescription drugs to the United States.

The initiative, which has been widely anticipated for the past few months, is meant to preserve Canada’s prescription-drug supply for its citizens, Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said.

“Canada cannot be the drugstore for the United States of America,” Mr. Dosanjh said. Canadian prescription drugs are popular with U.S. patients, especially seniors, because they tend to be about 40 percent cheaper than their U.S. counterparts.

Canada sells about $1.6 billion annually in prescription drugs to American patients, Mr. Dosanjh said.

The measures Mr. Dosanjh plans to introduce likely would not be enacted until later this year or early next year.

But Mr. Dosanjh said he wanted to get a jump on a looming problem: 25 state bills in the United States would open up the Canadian border to more bulk sales of prescription drugs for U.S. consumers.

Bills also have been introduced in Congress to increase Canadian drug sales on a federal level.

“Our priority must be the health and safety of all Canadians and the strength of our health care system,” Mr. Dosanjh said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the sale of U.S. prescription drugs, hailed the announcement.

“It’s in the best interests of U.S. patients to use the nation’s drug supply,” said Tom McGinnis, the FDA’s pharmacy affairs director.

The agency had been concerned about the rising number of Canadian online pharmacies filling prescriptions with drugs coming from outside of Canada and the U.S., Mr. McGinnis said.

Health Canada, the country’s health agency, plans to implement three major changes. Mr. Dosanjh said he will introduce legislation that would amend the country’s Food and Drugs Act.

That bill, which circumvents international trade laws, would give the Canadian government the authority to ban the bulk export of “prescription and other needed drugs” to any country when Canada deems the action necessary to protect the health of its citizens.

Additionally, Mr. Dosanjh said he will propose a regulation that would require Canadian doctors to have an existing relationship with their patients before prescribing medication. The regulation would not need Parliament’s approval.

Details on the required patient-practitioner relationship will be formed during the next few months, with feedback from the public and health care industry, Mr. Dosanjh said.

Currently, U.S. patients can send their prescriptions to Canadian physicians, who examine the prescriptions and patients’ medical records before signing off on them.

While the practice is not illegal, several provincial medical boards have raised ethical concerns about Canadian doctors who have written thousands of prescriptions for patients they never have examined.

For American patients, the proposed regulation could mean requiring them to be examined by Canadian doctors before they could get a prescription.

But Mike Hicks, legal counsel for two of Canada’s largest Internet pharmacies, said he was not concerned.

“If Health Canada was going to put in place barriers that would affect the way our business works, I think they would have said so,” said Mr. Hicks, who represents Canadameds and Total Care Pharmacy Ltd., both online pharmacies in Calgary, Alberta.

“My intention is not to kill the [Canadian pharmacy] industry or adversely affect patients in America,” Mr. Dosanjh said several times yesterday.

Health Canada also will set up a system to track the country’s drug supply. Mr. Dosanjh would not say how the system would work.

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