Could a new U.S. drug system hurt Canada’s prescription drug supply?

Kathy and Hunter Sego at Olde Walkerville Pharmacy in Windsor July 28, 2019. (Photo by Adelle Loiselle)

After a litany of complaints from American consumers over the cost of prescription drugs in the U.S., the Trump administration is moving ahead with a system allowing them to access drugs from Canada.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will oversee the new system allowing Americans to import Canadian drugs at a fraction of what it costs them at home.

Desperate Americans are also crossing the border into Canada to purchase much-needed medication. Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made such a trip Sunday to Windsor with a group of people who have diabetes who bought insulin at a tenth of the price in the U.S. An earlier caravan travelled from Minnesota to London.

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Families in the U.S. have said they are taking drastic measures to afford the medication back home, including taking on a second or third job, choosing between paying utility bills and buying insulin, and rationing.

Rachael Lockwood of Michigan stands outside the Olde Walkerville Pharmacy in Windsor July 28, 2019. (Photo by Adelle Loiselle)

Rachael Lockwood of Michigan stands outside the Olde Walkerville Pharmacy in Windsor with her three children July 28, 2019. (Photo by Adelle Loiselle)

“First he tried to starve himself, or cut back on his carbs,” said Kathy Sego from Indiana of her son Hunter during Sunday’s visit to the Olde Walkerville Pharmacy. “He found out starving was worse than rationing.”

However, Canadian pharmacists are already raising the alarm about drug shortages. The Canadian Pharmacists Association released the results of a new survey last week which said shortages have increased in the previous three to five years. Almost eight out of 10 said they have increased “greatly”.

It said pharmacists are spending more and more of their time trying to mitigate drug shortages for their patients. More than two-thirds, or 67 per cent reported daily shortages, occupying up to two hours of a standard ten-hour shift.

“While drug shortages are an unfortunate daily reality for patients and pharmacists, the scale and number of shortages and recalls that we have seen over the past year have resulted in patient confusion and distress,” said Barry Power, senior director of digital content with the association. “[It has] placed an important spotlight on some of the gaps and challenges in Canada’s drug supply.”

As for patients, a survey last year by Abacus Data said a shortage of their prescription medications had impacted 68 per cent of Canadians.

“We now worry about the potential impact U.S. drug importation legislation could have,” added Power. “With over 20 pieces of legislation at the state and federal levels, the biggest risk for Canadians is exacerbating drug shortages. Our drug supply simply is not equipped to supply a country ten times our size.”

Last week, 15 groups representing patients, health professionals, hospitals, and pharmacists wrote federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor calling for a national strategy to deal with drug shortages.

The association is also calling on Ottawa to “clearly articulate its position regarding the exportation of Canadian medications to other countries, and put measures in place to protect our drug supply from the impact of U.S. importation legislation.”