NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 17, 2004

Canada has doubled its imports of prescription drugs since 1999 -- a period that saw U.S. residents increasingly buying drugs from Canada -- and would be unable to meet the demand created if U.S. law allowed greater access. That's the conclusion of a University of Texas-Austin researcher Marv Shepherd, director of the Center for Pharmacoeconomic Studies, who studied the issue at the request of two congressmen, using government data from both countries.

The study attempts to quantify the potential impact of U.S. demand for pharmaceuticals on Canada and will likely spur further debate about opening U.S. borders to medications from abroad.

Shepherd found:

  • If all U.S. residents bought their prescription drugs from Canada, that nation's supply would be exhausted in 38 days.
  • If just half of the elderly in the United States were to buy drugs from Canada, it would have to boost its drug supply by 2.5 times.
  • Among other findings:
  • Canada doubled the value of its drug imports since 1999, from $2.3 billion to $4.7 billion last year.
  • In 2003, 44 percent of those drugs came from the United States.
  • The rest came from more than 80 countries, including Ireland, Italy, Mexico, India, Cuba, Colombia and Guyana.

Health Canada, which oversees drugs in that country, says all drugs must be approved by the department and be made in plants that meet Canada's manufacturing standards.

Critics of importation may use the report to question how the United States would ensure that drugs coming from all over the world meet U.S. quality standards. The Food and Drug Administration says it cannot ensure the safety of drugs from plants it doesn't inspect.

Source: Julie Appleby, "U.S. drug needs would overwhelm Canada," USA Today, May 17, 2004.


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