Buy Canadian? - For Meds, Trump Says to Go Ahead! What this means for You.

Aug 7, 2019

By Barret Procyshyn, Family Pharmacist at Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Almost a year ago a popular blood pressure medication, valsartan, was recalled across Canada; and across the world. I talked about this issue on the pharmacy feature, as generic and brand name products of valsartan were wiped off the shelves in every pharmacy across the country. The first recall affected about 10 000 Manitobans. Later, just when we thought the recall was sorted out, more products were taken off the shelf for precautionary reasons. Next, other similar medications for treating high blood pressure started becoming in short supply. They just couldn't make these fast enough.

Just last week President Trump went against his big pharma political donors and is attempting to fix the issue of expensive medications in the United States. His solution, let US citizens head north, pick up medication and not be given any hassle at the border bringing it back. This works for the average American who cannot afford their medication. Canadian drugs are usually cheaper due to regulations north of the border and the weak Canadian dollar is a bonus. Ironic; Trump's buy American does not seem to apply here.

We do not know for sure, but this is also good news for internet pharmacies as they may be allowed to ship medications to US customers with greater ease. Trump's solution is bad news for Canadians, especially as we experience more shortages in the pharmacy than ever before. If our government allows this, we simply will not have the supply to keep up with US demand. Remember, there are 300 000 000 Americans and Americans use a lot of medication. Second, the world is a small place, as technology now allows us to ship across North America overnight. Just because Dauphin is far from the border, does not mean you would not be impacted. This is a national issue.

With improved technology and shipping logistics that I am talking about, we would think there should be less shortages and recalls, but this is not the case. Many pharmacists comment they have never seen so many shortages. As generic drug prices are squeezed lower by governments (which has good intentions, as it saves us money), some medications, which are just not profitable because of their low price, are dropped by generic manufacturers. If less manufacturers produce the raw material or the pill, there is not enough supply to meet demand. As generic prices decrease many companies are sourcing the product from the same suppliers. This was the case with valsartan last year. Many Canadian medications come from a specific factory. If the US starts buying, they simply will not be able to keep up. If generic medications become unavailable, your third party plans and government pharmacare plans must pay for higher priced brand name medications. Costs go up for the plan user or the tax payer. Some products have been completely discontinued all together. The drug industry is big business, and its simple; if a drug is not making shareholders profits, they don't make it.

It is great medications are in the news. With two elections coming up governments need to start addressing the problem. First, our federal government should stop talking about this dream of an amazing National Pharmacare program and start protecting our drug supply. They need to start making sure generic medications are available. You can't have a national Pharmacare program without any medication. Secondly, Mr. Trudeau needs to man up and tell Mr. Trump Canada is not his pharmacy.

Provincially, our government needs to start seeing the pharmacist that is jumping up and down saying "we can help". They need to support pharmacists' expanded scope, so we can prescribe alternatives when a shortage occurs. They need to allow us to have blood pressure clinics where we track blood pressures and help adjust medications. They also need to support drug formularies to make sure all the inexpensive options are available when they are needed.

If a shortage occurs, phone your pharmacist. Most of the time we can help, or at least try our best. Often, we must contact the doctor, research the best option based on your situation and make a recommendation. Sometimes switching a medication is somewhat of an educated guess, but we can help you out along the way. The great thing is we are your most accessible health care professional. Make use of us. And tell your politician to make use of us, because great advice from your pharmacist is NOT in short supply!


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