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Canadians object to US drug bill

As the debate over drug importation roils on in the US, Canadians are voicing their own objections to proposed legislation that would allow medicines from Canada to be shipped over the border into the States.

As the debate over drug importation roils on in the US, Canadians are voicing their own objections to proposed legislation that would allow medicines from Canada to be shipped over the border into the States.

A coalition of Canadian pharmacists' groups has sent an open letter to Tony Clement, Canada's minister of health, raising concerns about the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act of 2007, a bipartisan bill introduced in the US House and Senate on 10 January that would permit importation of FDA-approved medications from certain foreign countries. The legislation would phase in importation on a country-by-country basis, beginning with Canada.

"Our organizations believe that this American legislative proposal poses an imminent and serious threat to the security and integrity of Canada ís drug supply," the letter states. It is signed by the leaders of the Canadian Pharmacists Association, the Ontario Pharmacists Association, the Canadian Association for Pharmacy and the Best Medicines Coalition.

The groups believe the proposed legislation could rapidly deplete Canada's prescription drug supply, causing shortages for Canadian patients. They point out that the bill would allow not only purchasing by individual US patients, but also bulk purchasing by US health management organizations, large retail chains, and other entities that make high-volume purchases.

"[W]e call on the Government of Canada to institute an immediate ban on the export, both bulk and retail, of prescription drugs from Canada," the letter to Clement states. "While your office has indicated publicly that Health Canada will take action if and when Canada's prescription drug supply is affected by US importation, we can neither counsel nor support a reactive, after-the-fact approach."

The bill is also causing controversy in the US . PhRMA, the US drug industry's main trade association, opposes drug importation, citing a number of reasons, including the fear that the drugs might not be safe.

The current Federal law, which does not permit drug imports or reimports, "reflects well-documented concerns about the safety of imported drugs, and the probability that many such drugs will be unapproved, adulterated, contaminated, or counterfeit," PhRMA's Web site states.

However, many consumer and patient groups believe importing lower-priced Canadian drugs into the US could help contain health spending and increase access to drugs for low-income patients and senior citizens living on fixed incomes. AARP, the influential group for Americans over 50, has endorsed the new bill noting that it "imposes strict safety standards to prevent drug counterfeiting, and includes important provisions to prevent potential trade obstructions."

AARP CEO Bill Novelli has sent a letter to the sponsors of the legislation commending them on a number of positive features of the bill, including a provision designed to keep American companies from refusing to supply Canada with drugs that might be imported back into the US at lower prices.

"No importation system could function if entities (particularly pharmaceutical manufacturers) were allowed to shut off supply of their product," the AARP's letter states. "Your legislation grants the Federal Trade Commission the authority to prevent this abuse."

17th January 2007


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