Canada to allow bans on bulk drug exports

Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh says Canada will ban the bulk exports of prescriptions "if and when necessary," as part of strategy to control internet pharmacies.

Canada will ban the bulk exports of prescription medications when needed, as part of strategy to control internet pharmacies, says Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh.

"Canada cannot be the drugstore for the United States of America," Dosanjh said at a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Health Canada plans to change the Food and Drugs Act to allow the federal government to ban the bulk export of prescription and other needed drugs, Dosanjh said.

The legislation is among a raft of changes aimed at controlling the booming industry, as Washington considers a law that would allow the bulk import of prescription drugs from other countries.

Dosanjh said his department would consult with industry before introducing the legislation to allow bans in the fall legislative sitting.

The ban wouldn't be permanent and would likely be limited to certain drugs that are in short supply at a certain time, Dosanjh said.

"It has never been my intention to kill the industry," he said.

If the United States allows bulk drug imports, observers expect a huge jump in the cross-border drug trade between Canada and the United States. The fledgling industry was already estimated to have been worth more than $1 billion in 2004.

Dosanjh said he has heard anecdotal evidence of shortages of certain drugs in various parts of Canada due to the cross-border sales to the U.S., but doesn't have any hard figures.

Health Canada will talk with the provinces, territories and industry this summer to set up a national system to track the volume of drugs being shipped across the border, Dosanjh said.

He also said he would strengthen existing rules to ensure that American patients getting prescriptions from Canada have some kind of relationship with a Canadian doctor.

However, Dosanjh wouldn't say whether that relationship would need to be a face-to-face one, as opposed to one conducted through telephone calls or e-mail correspondence.

David MacKay, an internet pharmacy consultant, said his organization would like more details about some of the proposed changes, but supports the move overall.