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This article was published 31/7/2019 (779 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Pharmacists in Manitoba warn that drug shortages here will only get worse if U.S. President Donald Trump makes good on a promise to let Americans import cheaper medication from Canada.
"What we’re really concerned about is exacerbating these drug shortages," said Doug Thidrickson, vice-president of Pharmacists Manitoba. "We already have considerable shortages," he said. "We’re not equipped to supply a country 10 times our size."
The Trump administration said Wednesday it will create a pathway to allow Americans to legally and safely import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada for the first time. That’s a reversal of years of opposition from federal health authorities amid public outcry over high prices for life-sustaining medications.
That’s a concern north of the border, where a Canadian Pharmacists Association survey released last week said most pharmacists report that drug shortages have increased in the past three to five years, with 79 per cent saying that shortages have "greatly increased."
In Manitoba, pharmacists have seen shortages of Epipens, anti-hypertensive medication and travel vaccines in the past year, Thidrickson said.
The lack of Epipens was dire. The epinephrine auto-injector is used in emergencies to treat very serious allergic reactions to insect stings, food, drugs or other substances. It acts quickly to improve breathing, stimulate the heart, raise blood pressure, reverse hives and reduce swelling of the face, lips and throat.
"We had to have an action plan with the Canadian government to import epinephrine (auto-injectors) from the U.S. and globally because we didn’t have enough supply in Canada. That was how significant that was. There were no alternative suppliers for it."
South of the border, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a former drug industry executive, proposed Wednesday that states, wholesalers and pharmacists would be able to get FDA approval to import certain medications and allow drugmakers to seek approval for re-importation of their own drugs, including cutting-edge biologic drugs as well as mainstays such as insulin.
It’s unclear how soon the proposal could take effect. Looking to his 2020 re-election campaign, Trump has made lowering prescription drug prices one of his top goals. The Canadian Health Coalition isn’t panicking about the U.S. planning to allow the importation of Canadian drugs.
"It is something we’re definitely monitoring," said Melanie Bernard, the coalition’s national director in Ottawa. "We’re calling for a national pharmacare program."
The U.S. signalling that it wants to take advantage of Canada’s lower drug prices bolsters arguments for the plan.
"This is more of an incentive to adopt that program, since we have more control when we’re purchasing for the country as a whole," Bernard said.
Pharmacists in Manitoba want Ottawa to stand up to Washington.
"I think the federal government needs to clearly express its opposition to U.S. drug importation," Thidrickson said. The Canadian Pharmaceutical Association has been working with government officials to address shortages in Canada, he said.
The national association says it has called on the federal government to spell out its position regarding the exportation of Canadian medications to other countries, and put measures in place to protect the drug supply from the effect of U.S importation legislation.
"Currently, we’re reacting to drug shortages rather than being proactive," Thidrickson said.
— with file from The Associated Press
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.