Americans are embracing the modem and abandoning the motor vehicle in search of cheaper drug prices and Canadian pharmacies are the destination. The neighbor to the north has become the savior of the health-plan meek, and the cash mild, by filling their prescriptions for savings of up to 80%. Yet, while the willing Canadians share their good fortune of lower-priced drugs, unfriendly forces plot their demise. Doctors associations, pharma giants, and government agencies are doing their best to thwart this “humanitarian effort”.
Canadian pharmacies, and especially their online counterparts, are flourishing in today’s shop-at-home environment. The process of ordering prescription drugs is relatively simple. You find a web drug store you like, choose the prescription drugs you need, tally the cost in a shopping cart, fill out a questionnaire, then mail in, or fax, your prescription and signed consent form and presto – instant savings. For some, especially America’s seniors, it also means not having to choose which drug you will have to forego this month, or the next.
So why is this seemingly win-win situation under so much pressure? For starters, because it’s illegal. The FDA says the same drugs that have been approved in the U.S. but originate in Canada are considered unapproved new drugs and are therefore illegal for import. However, since it has previously allowed U.S. citizens to import needed drugs that are unavailable in the U.S., it has made exceptions for personal use drug imports.
For the FDA, the fact remains that the drugs are illegal. This is the position they are advocating with many U.S. governors, like Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich who has been contemplating Canadian drug reimportation in the face of U.S. law. Minnesota’s governor Tim Pawlenty created a referral web site for residents to purchase drugs from two Canadian pharmacies it researched and has okayed. Growing numbers of states are seriously looking at reducing budgets or helping residents reduce the burden of high priced prescription meds through Canadian pharmacies.
Demand for Canadian prescription drugs is high, so what about supply. David McKay, head of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, will meet with U.S. governors at their upcoming summit on drug importation to ask for their help with the large pharmaceutical companies. The pharma giants have begun restricting supply to Canadian pharmacies in an effort to quell the flow south. For the pharma giants, as the drugs flow south, so do their profits.
Canadian pharmacies have made a commitment to take care of Canadians first but there is a loud cry for their services across the border. Some critics accuse that it’s all about money, and that Canadian online pharmacies are making a mint selling drugs to American citizens.
It was that same argument that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) used when deciding to go after the doctors who are “chain-signing” prescriptions. When a prescription from an U.S. doctor comes to a pharmacy in Canada, the Canadian doctor reviews the patient’s medical questionnaire along with the prescription received, and then writes out a new prescription for the drugs to be dispensed, according to Canadian law. The CMA says doctors should not sign prescriptions if the patient has not been seen in a personal exam.
This type of professional peer pressure is the doctors lobby at stopping, or significantly slowing the process they feel hurts the profession. So far 1 Manitoba doctor has been fined $10,000 for signing more than 9,000 prescriptions and 3 others accused of professional misconduct by the College of Physicians and surgeons.
With the recent Medicare changes so slow in coming, and so slow in creating any change, the need for aid from Canadian pharmacies will continue a good while longer. It is truly unfortunate that a service providing a “humanitarian effort”, has more than its share of negative forces working against it. It begs the all-important question, “Can it last?” Only time will tell.