The Guardian 2 February, 2005

US to block Canadian medicines

Darrell Rankin

In a total betrayal, the Martin Liberals may shut down Canada's C$1 billion internet pharmacy business within a few weeks. US corporate drug companies are opposed to the import of inexpensive drugs. According to industry spokespersons, US President George Bush gave Prime Minister Paul Martin an "ultimatum" to stop the flow of cheap pharmaceuticals.

Last year close to two million US patients purchased drugs from internet mail-order pharmacies in Canada, due to a combination of Canadian price controls, a lower Canadian dollar and a highly monopolised US drug industry. Typically, drugs in Canada cost 30 to 40 per cent less than at US drug stores.

The strongest push for this change is coming from US corporate drug giants, which spent US$235.7 million in the United States on lobbying between 1997 and 1999 alone, and gave US$33.4 million to US political parties and candidates between 1997 and 2000.

Federal health minister Ujjal Dosanjh, a former NDP premier of British Columbia, is drawing up regulations that will end the jobs of 4000 people in Canada, about half of whom live in Manitoba, and boost US corporate drug profits by billions of dollars over several years. Millions of US citizens will be forced to pay monopoly pricing to the corporate drug giants, if they can afford it at all.

Arguments in support of the crackdown are convoluted on both sides of the border. The regulations may ban Canadian doctors from co-signing prescriptions written by American physicians, to prevent the "unethical" practice of issuing prescriptions for patients not personally examined. But a majority of US states (29) honour prescriptions written by Canadian doctors with no need for a co-signing US physician.

Citing a need to guarantee the amount of drugs available to Canadians, Dosanjh may ban the export of a list of widely used prescription drugs. Surely there are less drastic measures that will ensure drug supplies.

In the US, politicians have expressed concerns about the "safety" of drugs imported from Canada, many of which are first exported from the US to Canada; they are the same drugs manufactured by the same companies in the same plants as drugs intended for US citizens. This prompted one US congressman to demand, "Show us the dead Canadians".

But a shortage of facts or valid reasons has never stopped pro-corporate governments from acting when profits are at stake. The Martin Liberals are bowing to the bigger profit-mongers who control Washington and abandoning workers and businesses in their own country, an outright betrayal of Canada.

People's Voice, Canada's communist newspaper

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