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Canada to Restrict Internet Pharmacy Sales to the United States

June 27, 2005

Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh is expected to announce restrictions this week on Canada-based Internet pharmacies that ship inexpensive drugs to people in the United States. Dosanjh calls the practice immoral and claims he is concerned that the industry, which brings into Canada approximately US$700 million per year, may cause a drug shortage in Canada.

The high cost of prescription medications in the US has prompted many people, particularly senior citizens, to seek alternative sources to fill their prescriptions. Unlike the US government, the Canadian government sets limits on the prices pharmaceutical firms may charge for drugs. In recent years, Americans have crossed the border into Canada, or gone online, to access Canada's less expensive medications.

Canada-based Internet pharmacies work like this, according to the Associated Press: "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 admit no shortages currently exist. The government also maintains it is unethical for doctors to sign prescriptions without examining patients."

Potential Restrictions

Health Minister Dosanjh is reportedly "still struggling to find a way to clamp down on Internet pharmacies exporting cheap drugs to the US without shutting down the industry," according to the Winnipeg Sun (14 June). Although this suggests Dosanjh will permit the industry some measure of continued operation, entirely shutting down the industry remains an option. In this case, many believe that the Canadian Internet pharmacy industry, which is primarily based in Manitoba, would simply move to another country.

Other options Dosanjh may consider are to bar Canadian doctors from co-signing prescriptions without physically examining the patient; to prohibit sales to foreigners who are not in Canada; to ban bulk drug exports; and to prohibit price reductions on drugs sent out of the country, according to spokesperson Ken Polk.

The US Congress is currently considering several bills that would permit US residents to import drugs from other countries. However, US pharmaceutical companies have lashed back, threatening to stop drug shipments into Canada if the drugs are simply sent back to the US at cheaper prices.

Dosanjh is expected to make his announcement during or after the Canadian cabinet meeting this week.

Posted: June 2005