TORONTO, Oct. 11
Hon. Tony Clement
Minister of Health, Government of Canada
Minister's Office, Health Canada
Brooke Claxton Building, Tunney's Pasture
Ottawa, Canada K1A 0K9
Ontario pharmacists are gravely concerned about the imminent threat to Canada's prescription drug supply, and the corresponding public health and safety threat to Canadians, arising from legislative changes and relaxed enforcement measures in the United States that re-open America's border to the importation of prescription drugs by U.S. patients.
As you know, Congressional leaders struck a deal on September 29 to allow Americans to carry back from Canada a 90-day personal supply of prescription drugs through "foot traffic" importation. The Department of Homeland Security compounded this change by ceasing confiscation by Customs and Border Protection agents of drugs ordered over the Internet and mailed to Americans, effective October 9.
We appreciate that these developments represent political deal-making by American lawmakers to take high U.S. prescription drug costs off the table as an issue to protect incumbents in the U.S. mid-term elections. However, the impact on Canada is clear: we are back to a free-for-all for cross-border drug importation.
We are deeply disturbed that in spite of the serious implications for Canada's drug supply and the health and safety of Canadians, there is no evidence of consultation with the Government of Canada, or of any effort to ask how our pharmacists and drug experts view American patients raiding Canada's medicine cabinet.
Our pharmacists do not want to become America's drug store. Our job is to provide medications and expertise to Canadian patients, not provide solutions or the shortcomings of the U.S. health care system and its problem with high drug costs.
U.S. demand is more than ten times the size of Canadian supply. We do not have the capacity to feed America's need for lower-cost drugs, and unimpeded depletion of our supply poses a serious threat to public health and safety in Canada.
We are further concerned that the legitimizing of Internet drug purchases by Americans encourages fraud by offshore criminals posing as Canadian pharmacists and selling counterfeit drugs. This is a health and safety threat to both American and Canadian patients who rely on the reputation of Canadian pharmacists and buy drugs from what they believe are Canadian Internet pharmacies, believing them to be safe and genuine.
In fact, U.S. customs statistics on mail-order seizures show at least 10 per cent of packages purportedly from Canadian Internet pharmacies contain counterfeit drugs.
We believe it is prudent and reasonable to also call attention at this time to the renewed emergence with these U.S. legislative and enforcement changes of a national security vulnerability in both the U.S. and Canada arising from the re-opening of the door to the potential for drug terrorism, with drugs sent by mail used as a vehicle of attack on innocent members of the public.
In this respect, an April 2005 report to Congress warned "the nation's medicine supply is vulnerable to exploitation by organized criminals, drug traffickers and terrorists. We should not contemplate opening our borders to threats to our medicine supply when in all other aspects we are searching for ways to tighten the security of our borders."
While the legislative changes enacted to date do not support bulk importation, we note that proponents of the changes in Congress have indicated their interest and intent to bring forward "full-blown" importation legislation in the future. We must warn unequivocally that bulk importation would quickly deplete the Canadian drug supply and cause a crisis in drug
availability for Canadians - in one credible U.S. analysis, within 38 days.
We also have a more fundamental concern that these developments further encourage the use of Internet pharmacies by patients who bypass their own community pharmacists. Patients who do so jeopardize their health and risk dangerous drug interactions by relinquishing expert consultation and crucial pharmacist-patient interaction.
We are disappointed that the Government of Canada has stood idly by while the U.S. has made changes that threaten the Canadian prescription drug supply, pose a danger to the health and safety of Canadians, raise national security vulnerabilities and undermine the important, long-standing relationship between pharmacists and patients.
We respectfully call on the Government of Canada to take immediate action to protect Canada's prescription drug supply by banning prescription drug sales to U.S. patients by all means, including "foot traffic", Internet and mail order.
We look forward to your reply at your earliest convenience.
Chief Executive Officer
Ontario Pharmacists' Association
For further information: or to set up an interview, please contact: Mary-Anne Cedrone, Manager of Communications, Ontario Pharmacists' Association, (416) 441-0788 ext.4266, Cell: (416) 278-5582