Canada will shortly announce a ban on bulk sales of drugs to the United States as a way of reining in Internet pharmacies that sell cheap medicine to Americans, the Winnipeg Free Press reported Monday. The paper quoted federal sources as saying health minister Ujjal Dosanjh would also unveil a monitoring system to track the volume of drugs being shipped out of Canada to ensure that domestic supplies do not run out. The proposals would not stop individuals from using Internet pharmacies, but they would block plans by some U.S. states for bulk purchases of medicines from Canada.
Canada sets limits on what pharmaceutical companies can charge for their drugs, so drugs are cheaper in Canada than in the United States. Some anti-HIV drugs and those used to treat breast cancer, for example, sell in Canada for less than half the price charged in the Untied States. That has triggered a boom in Internet pharmacies that sell medicines to Americans, often without Canadian doctors seeing the patients or signing their prescriptions.
Several bills to allow foreign drug imports are now before the U.S. Congress, but Dosanjh says Canada does not have the supplies to meet a vast increase in demand from south of the border. Pharmaceutical companies have also threatened to halt shipments to Canada if the drugs are simply shipped back to the United States and sold at levels that undercut U.S. prices.
Dosanjh spokesman Ken Polk would not comment on the Winnipeg Free Press article. "Any package of steps will reflect the minister's abiding concern with protecting the Canadian supply of prescription medicines, protecting the Canadian drug pricing regime, as well as constraining the practice of cosigning prescriptions for Americans," he said.
Officials say Dosanjh is due to make the announcement some time this week. (Reuters)