Canada to Bernie Sanders: they’re not your meds

Canada to Bernie Sanders: they’re not your meds
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Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to lower American drug prices by importing medication from countries like Canada.

Canadians, however, aren’t too thrilled with the idea.

Days before the Democratic presidential primary contender is set to travel north with diabetes patients seeking cheaper insulin, a coalition of 15 Canadian medical professional and patient groups are asking their government to protect their pharmaceutical supply. Canada already experiences drug shortages, the group says.

Democrats in America have long pushed the idea of importing drugs from Canada as a solution for high drug prices in the US. The concept, which is supported by many of those vying for the 2020 nomination, is closer to becoming reality now that President Donald Trump is backing it.

Spurred by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump has asked Health Secretary Alex Azar to look into giving the Sunshine State permission to import drugs, which is currently not legal in the US.

The Canadian coalition, however, says that their country currently suffers from drug shortages and does not have the supply to send medications across its southern border. Members have voiced concerns in the past to Health Canada, one the federal agencies responsible for health services, but the issue is more pressing now that Trump is on board, said Joelle Walker, a vice president with the Canadian Pharmacists Association.

“Hospital and community pharmacies in Canada are resourced to serve the Canadian public,” the coalition’s letter read, noting that the country only has 36 million residents. “They are not equipped to support to the needs of a country 10 times its size without creating important access or quality issues.”

The group wants Health Canada to express opposition and implement legislation or regulations to restrict it.

Canada’s Office of the Minister of Health said it continues to work to ensure Canadians have “uninterrupted access” to the medications they need.

“Our government would oppose any initiatives that could adversely affect the supply of prescription drugs in Canada or the costs for Canadians,” said Thierry Bélair, the office’s press secretary.

The Sanders campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.

Canadian pharmacists report that drug shortages have “greatly increased” over the past three to five years, according to a survey released Friday. The most common medications in short supply include anti-depressants and those that treat heart, stomach and intestinal conditions.

Unlike in the US, buying insulin does not need a prescription. Diabetes Canada has been assured by Health Canada that the agency will intervene if Americans’ buying insulin poses a risk to Canadians, according to Sherry Calder, a spokeswoman for the research and advocacy group.

Diabetes Canada is not aware of any insulin shortages in the country, said Seema Nagpal, a vice president at the group.

The coalition, which also includes associations representing doctors, nurses and diabetes patients, also raised fears that US approval of importation could fuel the growth of illegal online pharmacies. These companies claim or imply their medications are from Canada but are really sourced elsewhere and could pose a threat to patients’ safety, said Walker, who also chairs the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies Canada.

Sanders is taking the trip to highlight the high cost of drugs in the US and the profit motives of the pharmaceutical industry. Importing medication from Canada and other developed countries are part of his solution, along with allowing Medicare to negotiate prices and setting prices based on those in other countries, including Canada.

In Canada, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board — an independent body established by Parliament in 1987 — ensures that brand-name drug prices are not excessive.