Calgary

Protect Canada's insulin supply from U.S. buyers in search of bargains, advocates urge

The call for action comes after a highly publicized trip to Windsor, Ont., by a group of American diabetics looking to buy insulin for about $30 per vial instead of the roughly $450 it costs south of the border.

Trips to Canada by American diabetics seeking more affordable medication prompted the call to action

A vial of insulin costs approximately 15 times less in Canada than it does in the United States. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Advocates in Alberta are calling on the federal government to protect insulin supplies for Canadian diabetics.

The call for action comes after a highly publicized trip to Windsor, Ont., by a group of American diabetics, seeking insulin at an affordable price. 

In the United States, a vial of insulin costs roughly $450 CAD.

That same vial is only $30 here in Canada, which has prompted some Americans to travel across the border to buy their life-saving medication.

Todd Prochnau president of the Alberta Pharmacist Association worries it could impact supply locally.

"It's definitely on our radar," he said. "There's a significant amount of drug shortages in Canada right now."

Shortages include EpiPens and some antibiotics, blood pressure pills and anti-depressants, he said.

'That is one of the big concerns'

While insulin isn't currently one of those shortages, Prochnau says supply could be at risk should Americans begin making more frequent, large scale trips.

"That is one of the big concerns with the possibility of more and more people from the U.S. accessing medicine in Canada," he said.

"And I know insulin has been mentioned more specifically because insulin can be purchased from a pharmacy without a prescription."

Government intervention needed

Prochnau said while there is no immediate risk to the country's insulin supply, there isn't anything protecting it either.

"What we need at the federal level is the government has to have a real plan in place so that Canadian medicine is protected for Canadian patients first," he said. 

Diabetes Canada has also asked the government to take proactive protective measures.

"Given how critical it is that Canadians who need it have full access to insulin, we are requesting that Health Canada act immediately and decisively to ensure our citizens will not be impacted by the U.S. situation through possible changes in supply," says Dr. Jan Hux, president of Diabetes Canada.

"The health of Canadians living with diabetes must not be negatively impacted as any interruptions in the supply of insulin could have potentially dangerous consequences.

Alberta supply not currently at risk

In a statement, Alberta Health says they're not aware of evidence indicating any current shortage of insulin available through government-sponsored supplementary drug plans.

"Similarly, we are not aware of any evidence that these purchases are impacting Albertan's safety or ability to access insulin drug product," reads the statement.

But, Alberta Health says it supports any initiative that would ensure access to safe and affordable prescription medication isn't compromised. 

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

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