Drug shortages deserve to be an election issue
In recent months, local pharmacies have notified me (often several times per day) that certain drugs were suddenly on “backorder” for unknown reasons and for an unknown period of time. Health Canada reports that there are currently 1848 drug shortages and 65 anticipated shortages.
Why are they temporarily unavailable? Is it increased global demand, a sudden lack of active ingredients, or vague manufacturing problems? No answers.
The Canadian Pharmaceutical Survey (November 14-December 3, 2018) revealed that in the past 3-4 years drug shortages had “greatly increased” by 79%. One in four Canadian adults has been personally affected in the past three years, or knows someone who has. Three cancer therapy drugs – vinorelbine, leucovorin, and etoposide – are in short supply, plus several for hypertension, heartburn, and seizures.
Our frail drug supply now faces an additional threat. Caravans of diabetics are obtaining their insulin in Canada at 10% of US cost. Ten states are legalizing the importation of Canadian drugs. This has the blessing of President Trump. It would mainly affect name-brand drugs.
Generic drugs might also be affected if Dr. Eric Hoskins’ national pharmacare plan were implemented. At present, most generics are more expensive in Canada than in the US. However, if the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance managed to slash these prices, what guarantee is there that a sufficient quantity of drugs would be earmarked for Canadians?
Our country of 37 million cannot solve the exorbitant drug price problem of our neighbour of 325 million. Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor should express our strongest reservations about permitting Americans free access to our very limited drug supply.
Legislation is required restricting the amount of Canadian pharmaceuticals being exported. Also, perhaps those purchasing more than a week or so of medications such as insulin should be required to show ID that they are residents of Canada.
The next Canadian Prime Minister must also firmly state to President Trump that even a trickle of drugs from this country will be totally cut off if he threatens to re-impose tariffs on Canadian steel, aluminum, or other products.
Charles S. Shaver, MD