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Manitoba Pharmacists Reject Internet Plan

June 25, 2003

TORONTO (AP) _ Manitoba’s pharmacy industry is divided on how to regulate the Internet operations selling discount drugs to U.S. customers.

The province’s pharmaceutical association, a self-regulating body comprising 1,100 pharmacists, voted down a proposal to strengthen regulatory powers over the Internet pharmacies at a special meeting this week, association registrar Ron Guse said Wednesday.

At issue is extended regulatory control over the Internet pharmacies, which fill U.S. prescriptions for medicine that is less expensive in Canada.

The 307-271 vote Monday night means further talks involving Guse’s regulatory body and Manitoba’s licensed pharmacists who make up its membership, including the 170 from registered Internet pharmacies.

While all licensed Manitoba pharmacists come under general regulatory provisions, Guse’s association is seeking specific powers to ensure that the Canadian pharmacies are providing proper patient care and quality control when filling U.S. prescriptions.

Under the proposal worked out in six months of mediated talks, the Manitoba legislature would be asked to pass enabling legislation that would recognize the validity of prescriptions from U.S. doctors.

Other legislation would allow the pharmaceutical association to share information about prescriptions with other jurisdictions to allow proper investigation of any problems with medicines sent to U.S. patients.

The provincial government supports the so-called Manitoba international pharmacy industry, and would be likely to pass any legislation proposed by the pharmaceutical association and its members.

The industry that sprouted in recent years has created hundreds of jobs in this prairie province north of Minnesota and North Dakota. Manitoba is home to at least 55 of the estimated 150 Canadian operations estimated to bring in more than US$500 million a year in an expanding and quickly changing industry.

Guse said the secret ballot made it impossible to figure out a breakdown of Monday’s vote. He said concerns raised before the vote focused on the process of negotiating and approving the agreement, along with increasing difficulty by non-Internet pharmacies to compete with the international pharmacies.

``It was a close vote, and when you’re dealing with a lengthy document, people vote `no’ for various reasons,″ he said.

Pharmacies in small towns and rural areas of Manitoba complain they are unable to hire pharmacists because of the demand and higher salaries at the international operations. Fears that filling the U.S. prescriptions will leave insufficient supplies for Canadian patients also have been raised.

The Canadian operations capitalize on the disparity of drug prices and dollar values between the North American neighbors to sell medicine to U.S. patients.

Canada regulates drug prices as part of its national health care system, while the market dictates pricing in the United States. Many popular medications for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol can be bought in Canada at less than half the U.S. price.

The business is worrying pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline Inc., which sell their products for more money in the United States than in Canada. GlaxoSmithKline has cut supplies to some Canadian Internet pharmacy operations, saying the medicine it provides in Canada is prohibited from sale elsewhere.

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