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Canadians worried about drug supply

/ Source: The Associated Press

Canada could run out of prescription drugs if Illinois’ plan to buy medication there encourages other states to do the same, pharmacists from north of the border warned Wednesday.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is lobbying the federal government to let the state buy drugs at lower prices in Canada for its 230,000 state employees and retirees. He says the state could shave $91 million a year off the rapidly increasing cost of drugs.

But pharmacists from the province of Manitoba, invited to Springfield by the Illinois Pharmacists Association, urged Blagojevich to drop the plan, saying it could make drugs scarcer and jeopardize Canadians’ health care.

“We’re going to be denying them treatment, care, drugs — it just blows the whole thing up as far as Canadian health care. We’re exporting our health care,” said Michelle Fontaine, vice president of the Coalition for Manitoba Pharmacy, an organization that promotes ethical behavior in the field.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said Manitoba health ministry officials told a visiting Illinois delegation last month that they were unaware of any potential shortages.

“It’s a money issue,” Ottenhoff said. “Pharmacists should know better than anyone the huge risks posed by drugs that are too expensive for their patients to afford.”

Scott Drabant, president of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, said the issue also puts Illinois residents at risk because Blagojevich has not explained how he will get the drugs.

Because of government price controls in Canada, Internet sales of drugs have exploded in recent years, now totaling more than $1 billion a year, said Lothar Dueck, president of the Manitoba group.

Internet sales are not regulated and Illinois residents could be buying counterfeit or unsafe drugs, Dueck said.

Ottenhoff said the drugs Illinois would be buying would be drugs approved by the Canadian government and sold in Canadian pharmacies.