Spending on prescribed drugs in Canada reached an estimated $21.1 billion in 2006, up $1.4 billion from the previous year, although spending seems to be slowing, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information's annual report, Drug Expenditure in Canada, highlights trends in public and private spending on both prescribed and non-prescribed drugs from 1985 to 2006.

'For the first time in recent years, spending on prescribed drugs now appears to be slowing down.' —Michael Hunt, manager of pharmaceutical programs, CIHI

"Prescribed drugs have been one of the fastest-growing components of total health spending over the past two decades and continue to outpace most other health sectors, including spending on hospitals," said Michael Hunt, manager of pharmaceutical programs at the institute.

"For the first time in recent years, spending on prescribed drugs now appears to be slowing down, and is expected to show its smallest growth in a decade," he added in a release.

Total health spending grew by an estimated 5.8 per cent in 2006, while the projected annual growth rate was 6.9 per cent.

In comparison, from 1997 to 2004, spending on prescribed drugs increased on average by 11.2 per cent per year.

Nationally, average spending on prescribed drugs was $648 per person.

Spending was highest in Quebec at an estimated $699 per person, and lowest in Prince Edward Island at $559.

The public sector's share of total prescribed drug expenditures also varied significantly among provinces, ranging from 37 per cent in both P.E.I. and New Brunswick to 54 per cent in Manitoba.

The national average for the publicly financed portion of the total prescribed drug bill was46 per cent, the report said.

Hunt said several factors accounted for the differences incosts among public drug-subsidy programs, such as variations in:

  • Age and sex distribution.
  • Disease patterns across jurisdictions.
  • The way health care is delivered.

Total drug spending including non-prescribed drugs, such as over-the-counter medications, and personal health supplies, such as toothpaste and disposable diabetic syringes, is estimated to have reached $25.2 billion in 2006.

That'sup six per cent from the year before.

Prescribed drugs continue to take the main share of total drug spending at an estimated 83.8 per cent of total drug expenditure in 2006, up from 67.5 per cent in 1985.

Canada ranked third-highest in total drug spending at $699 per person, after the United States ($940) and France ($749),according to statistics compiled by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.