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Some Canadians worry about American interest in pharmacies
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Charles Cruden is worried that Canadian seniors will see shortages in their drug supply if more Americans buy their drugs from Canada. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Gov. Pawlenty is visiting Winnipeg to meet with Manitoba's premier and to inspect an Internet pharmacy. Officials with several Internet pharmacies have extended invitations to Pawlenty and other governors who want to help their citizens buy drugs from Canada, where the government controls prescription prices. Pawlenty is pushing a plan to make it easier for Minnesotans to purchase prescriptions from across the border because drugs in Canada cost less than what the same drugs cost in the U.S. Several Canadian groups, however, are voicing concern that their health system will suffer if more Americans buy their drugs from Canada.

Winnipeg, Manitoba — Charles Cruden is like many a 69-year-old retiree. He enjoys talking about his vacations and the weather in Winnipeg. He also is active in his senior citizens group, the Manitoba Society of Seniors. Cruden says he and others in his group are sympathetic with their peers in the United states over the high drug prices they face. But he opposes efforts by Gov. Pawlenty and other politicians who want to open the Canadian market to the U.S. He's worried that Canadian seniors will see shortages in their drug supply if more Americans buy their drugs from Canada.

"When you get (people) like the mayor of New York and Minnesota and these others states that are coming, Wisconsin, my goodness how long is it going to be before there's more Americans who are using the supplies of Canadian pharmaceuticals versus Canadians?" says Cruden, who is worried that drug companies will limit their shipments to Canada in the hopes of stopping the drugs from coming back into the United States.

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Image Greg Skura, co-owner of a chain of Super Thrifty Drug Stores

The argument has created quite a stir in Manitoba, where about 60 of the nation's 100 Internet pharmacies are located. Americans, who have become frustrated with high drug prices, are logging onto Web sites in hopes of finding some relief.

Several pharmacists at the Shopper's Drug Mart in downtown Winnipeg are busy filling orders for the day. One pharmacist, Stacy, who didn't want to give her last name, says she's seen the drug shortage firsthand. She says she's had to scramble at times to fill orders for patients.

"There have been cases where there's nothing available. We've had to switch medications over which is difficult for patients to understand in many cases. As far as I'm concerned, no one has told us any different, and we feel it's probably due to the internet pharmacy using up the drugs and sending them to the states," she says

Others worry that cross-border drug sales are causing a shortage of pharmacists in rural parts of Canada.

Greg Skura, co-owner of a chain of Super Thrifty Drug Stores in Manitoba, says he's been forced to close a drug store in rural Manitoba because he couldn't find a pharmacist willing to move to the store. Skura says officials at Internet pharmacies are hiring pharmacists at nearly double the salary he offers pharmacists.

"I'd like to see this cross border stopped. It's not helping us and it's not helping the states. The states have to solve this problem as a whole package. Right now, this is a short little Band-Aid solution," he says.

Manitoba officials say they're working with the Internet pharmacies to ensure that the Canadian drug supply doesn't suffer because of their business. Marcia Thomson, the assistant deputy minister with the Manitoba government's Department of Health, says she's heard the concerns but hasn't seen any concrete evidence of a drug shortage.

"We don't have any evidence to suggest if there is a problem and if there is a problem and where the problem might be at this point in time. Now that doesn't take away from the fact that we want to continue monitor the situation," she says.

Thomson, however, says the Internet pharmacies have been a boost to Manitoba's economic development. She says the industry has created about two thousand jobs and pumped $400 million into the Manitoba economy this year.

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