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Canadian Official Backs Drug Export Ban

Health minister says his nation cannot be America's 'drugstore.'

June 30, 2005|From Times Wire Services

TORONTO — Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, arguing that his country "cannot be the drugstore for the United States," said Canada would move to ban the bulk export of prescription drugs when its own supplies were low.

Dosanjh left vague how the restriction would be put into place and whether it would affect the thousands of individual purchases that take place across the border and over the Internet. He said he would introduce legislation in the House of Commons when it reconvenes in fall.

The policy would attempt to head off an anticipated onslaught of drug purchases by Americans if legislation pending in Congress legalizes Internet and bulk import of prescription drugs from Canada.

The ban "would come into effect from time to time whenever there is an anticipated shortage of prescription drugs or other needed drugs. It wouldn't be a permanent ban," Dosanjh said after a Cabinet meeting.

"Canada cannot be the drugstore for the United States of America -- 280 million people cannot expect us to supply drugs to them on a continuous, uncontrolled basis," he said.

Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world, and U.S. lawmakers are pushing to legalize the importation of wholesale prescription drugs as well as online purchases from Canada and other countries. Four bills pending in Congress have been opposed by the pharmaceutical lobby and the Food and Drug Administration.

Canada's prices are generally lower because the country limits what pharmaceutical companies can charge there. U.S. drug firms have threatened to halt shipments to Canada if the products are transported back to the United States and sold at levels that undercut U.S. prices.

Although it's legal in Canada for pharmacies to mail drugs to Americans -- after receiving their physicians' prescriptions -- it's illegal in the United States to buy the drugs from Canadian pharmacies, though the laws are generally not enforced.

The Bush administration opposes prescription drug imports, and federal regulators warn they cannot guarantee the safety of drugs from outside U.S. borders. Canadian officials, however, have said Canada's regulations are tougher than those of the United States.

Carole Jaquez, a 79-year-old widow from Apple Valley, Calif., said she would support changes in U.S. law. She said the drugs she buys through a Vancouver doctor for her high blood pressure and asthma cost half what they do in the U.S.

"I imagine we have to put the blame on the pharmaceuticals," she said. "Why are they charging so much, and why hasn't the administration in Washington done something?"

Anthony Wright, executive director of Oakland-based Health Access California, a coalition of labor and consumer organizations, had another proposal. He said state and federal governments in the U.S. should imitate Canada and use their purchasing power to get discounts from drug companies.

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