Health Minister Mark Holland says Florida’s plan to import cheaper Canadian pharmaceuticals is a non-starter and the federal government will use its regulatory power to ensure the national drug supply does not face any shortages due to actions by a foreign state.
“There is no way we will allow any jurisdiction, be it a state or another foreign jurisdiction, to endanger the Canadian drug supply. That is not an appropriate solution to whatever challenges they may be facing,” Holland said during an official announcement in Nova Scotia of a bilateral health-care deal with the province.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that another country cannot be given the ability to pillage our health system for its own benefit.”
Holland said he will soon travel to Washington, D.C. to make it known to officials there that Canada will not stand idle if Florida or other U.S. states pursue bulk imports that threaten Canadians’ access to medication in any way.
He said it’s “inappropriate” for U.S. politicians to look to Canada to help fix their costly health-care system, where sky-high drug prices are the norm.
Holland’s comments come after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week approved a Florida program to import certain prescription drugs from Canada at a lower cost.
Because of limits on prescription drug price negotiations in the U.S., politicians south of the border have argued their health-care systems should simply buy more drugs from Canada.
A 2021 report by the Rand Corporation found that Canadian prices were just 46 per cent of those in the United States because Ottawa limits how much drugmakers can charge for medicines. The U.S. lets the free market dictate drug prices.
Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is also vying to be his party’s candidate for the U.S. presidency, has long championed the initiative.
He celebrated the FDA’s decision as an opportunity for Florida to “import low-cost, life-saving prescription drugs.” DeSantis said the program will save Floridian taxpayers $180 million in the first year it’s operational.
The state has said it wants initially to import drugs that treat HIV, mental illness and prostate cancer.
While Florida has the green light from U.S. regulators, it’s still not clear if the state will get its hands on a meaningful quantity of drugs from Canada.
Holland said Canada has a large pharmaceutical industry that makes a number of drugs for sale overseas, and those exports will continue.
But Canada is dealing with serious supply issues of its own.
A national database suggests dozens of medications are in short supply in Canada, including popular drugs like diazepam — sold under the brand name Valium and used to treat anxiety — and opioids like hydromorphone.
“Understandably, the U.S. has its challenges with its drug supply and its costs. We will not allow the U.S. at all to use Canada as a means of fixing that problem,” Holland said. “We will do everything in our power to ensure shortages do not occur.”
Holland said Canada won’t hesitate to use regulatory powers first introduced in 2020 to restrict bulk exports that could worsen drug shortages.
Those regulations, introduced as then-U.S. president Donald Trump was touting a drugs-from-Canada scheme, bars the distribution of certain drugs outside of Canada that would cause or worsen a shortage.