During the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, Canada and the United States have worked together to keep North Americans safe. We have teamed up on treatments, trials, and testing; ensured production of personal protective equipment and other critical supplies; kept shelves stocked; and dealt with shortages of essential and critical care medications.
On both sides of the border, even before COVID-19, Canadians and Americans alike worried about medication shortages and rising costs. Recent legislation introduced in North Dakota suggests importing prescription drugs from Canada to address the high costs. However, Canada is not the solution.
I urge North Dakotans to consider the following:
Canada’s drug market, while safe and secure, is too small to meet the demand of both American and Canadian consumers. Canada’s population is 37 million people, while the United States’ population is 329 million. As such, Canada represents only 2% of the global pharmaceutical market, while the U.S. accounts for 44%. And in 2018, Canadian pharmacies filled 699 million prescriptions, compared to over 4.2 billion in that same year in the United States.
The Canadian prescription drug market relies heavily on external products, and cannot readily expand production to meet both Canadian and U.S. demand. Canada imports approximately 70% of its prescription drugs. Of the drugs produced domestically, roughly 90% of their components are imported.
Drug shortages are a growing global problem. Almost half of all prescription drugs marketed in Canada have experienced at least one shortage, and 10-15% of these drugs are in shortage at any given time.
The government of Canada is committed to safeguarding the Canadian drug supply and ensuring Canadians have access to the medications they need. As of November 2020, certain drugs intended for the Canadian market are prohibited from being distributed for consumption anywhere outside of Canada if that sale could cause or worsen a drug shortage within Canada. Canada has established mechanisms to help set prescription drug prices, ensuring that costs are reasonable for those who need them. I would be pleased to share more information with North Dakota officials on how prices are set in Canada, and I invite you to reach out to my office at any time.
Ariel Delouya, Minneapolis
Ariel Delouya is Consul General of Canada to North Dakota and four other states.