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Blacklist may force Net druggists to close

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INTERNET pharmacists blacklisted by big U.S. drug firms are scrambling to keep their customers and some may close, a spokesman for the druggists warned yesterday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/08/2003 (7109 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

INTERNET pharmacists blacklisted by big U.S. drug firms are scrambling to keep their customers and some may close, a spokesman for the druggists warned yesterday.

“I think you’ll definitely see that happen,” said Kris Thorkelson, president of the Manitoba International Pharmacist Association, about the possibility some of the smaller Internet pharmacists will be driven out of business.

Already, Manitoba’s largest drug wholesaler has seen its profits slashed by the crackdown on exports of cheap Canadian pharmaceuticals to the U.S.

“It’s causing a lot of uncertainty about the future,” said Thorkelson. “I think a lot of individual pharmacists are re-considering their position.”

Thorkelson said that may mean scaling back on exports and relying more on the traditional retail business.

Last week, Pfizer Inc, the world’s largest drug manufacturer, blacklisted 50 Canadian pharmacists. Pfizer supplies popular medications for arthritis, blood pressure, cholesterol and sexual dysfunction, including Viagra.

It joined three other companies — GlaxoSmithKline PLC, AstraZeneca PLC and Wyeth — in refusing to sell to Internet pharmacies.

The companies say they are concerned about customer safety that can’t be ensured by long-distance suppliers, but critics say the companies are concerned more about their profits.

Together, the four drug companies account for about 40 to 45 per cent of the pharmaceuticals shipped to the U.S. by Canadian Internet pharmacists, said John Myers, counsel for the Canadian International Pharmacists Association.

The Internet trade has flourished over the last couple of years because drug prices in Canada are significantly lower than in the U.S. — in some instances by as much as 80 per cent.

Industry tracker IMS Health estimated Americans are buying $650 million US of drugs from Canada annually.

Much of that business is generated in Manitoba. Of the estimated 150 Canadian operations, 55 are located in Manitoba.

The cross-border trade has created about 1,000 jobs in the province — many of them in the rural areas.

Their success has earned them the backing of the Doer government, eager to reap the economic benefits. The NDP intervened when it looked like there could be regulatory problems for the fledgling industry and lobbied Ottawa to take action against drug companies, which restrict supplies.

Thorkelson, who owns four retail outlets, said he and others have been buying drugs from other pharmacies to fill U.S. orders.

However, he said it means having to place many orders with different outlets to ensure an adequate supply.

In the past, Internet pharmacists would have simply gone to a drug wholesaler but they’ve also been squeezed out.

Procurity Pharmacy Services Inc. supplied many of the Internet pharmacists. In fact, the cross-border trade accounted for about 40 per cent of its business, said its CEO Wayne Rivers.

“Are we less profitable? The answer to that is yes,” said Rivers.

However, he said, they assumed all along that big pharmacies wouldn’t allow Canadian pharmacists to take a slice out of the lucrative American market.

“It was nice business to have but we didn’t build our future around it,” said Rivers.

He said he’s concerned the actions of the drug companies, particularly Pfizer, could limit access for Canadian patients.

Pfizer has said it will completely cut off supplies to any pharmacy that ships drugs south, unlike Glaxo, which has agreed to provide products to fill Canadian prescriptions.

Officials with Pfizer could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Colin MacArthur, lawyer for the Manitoba International Pharmacist Association, said court action against the drug companies is still a possibility.

Earlier this year, the federal Competition Bureau said there is no evidence to suggest the Competition Act is being violated by Glaxo’s new policy.

However, MacArthur said it’s possible that Pfizer’s actions could be viewed differently by the federal watchdog.

david.kuxhaus@freepress.mb.ca
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