Canadians Pay a Lot to Get Generic Drugs; U.S. Cost Part of Import Debate

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Byline: Marguerite Higgins, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Canadians pay more than most countries for generic drugs, according to a recent economic report.

The study by a Canadian think tank comes as the high cost of prescription drugs and health insurance are debated as major domestic issues in the U.S. presidential election campaign.

Legalized drug importation from Canada has become a big issue nationwide as senior citizens and city and local governments hunt for cheaper drugs. The Montgomery County Council last week approved a drug plan that challenges the Food and Drug Administration's ban of drugs imported from Canada.

But while Canada's prescription drugs are cheaper, generic drug prices there are considerably higher than those in eight industrialized countries, according to the Fraser Institute report released in August.

Canadians pay about 30 percent more for generic, or nonpatented, drugs than patients in other countries including the United States, Britain, Germany, Sweden, Italy, France, New Zealand and Australia. Switzerland was the only country in the study that had higher generic drug prices.

Brett Skinner, the author of the study and a research manager at the institute, said he pulled most of the information from public studies done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Canada's Patented Medicine Prices Review Board.

He concluded that the Canadian government's price controls on brand-name, patented drugs and restrictions against importing foreign generic drugs have artificially inflated prices for consumers.

The Apotex Group of Cos., a Toronto manufacturer of 150 generic drug lines, called the study a lobbying effort by multinational drug companies to change the Canadian health system.

The Fraser Institute receives 5 percent of its annual funding from the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Skinner said.

"Generic prices are high, depending on how you look at the data," said Apotex spokesman Elie Betito.

Generic drugs make up 40 percent of prescriptions in Canada, accounting for 15 percent of the $15 billion spent on prescription medications annually, Mr. Betito said.

Nearly 50 percent of all U.S. prescriptions are filled with generic drugs, up from 19 percent in 1984, according to recent data from Cutting Edge Information, a Durham, N.C., research services company.

U.S. sales of generic drugs increased from $12 billion in 2001 to $15.4 billion in 2002 and are projected to top $22 billion in 2005, the company said in May. …