Following a trend begun by GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer told pharmacists in a letter dated Aug. 4 that it will no longer sell its drugs through wholesalers and distributors. Instead, Pfizer will sell drugs directly to Canadian pharmacies. This change is aimed at helping Pfizer better track where its drugs are sold. Pharmacies that buy pharmaceuticals in order to resell them back into the United States would be cut off.
Buying drugs in Canada instead of the U.S. typically cuts the cost of filling a prescription by 40 to 60 percent.
“The objective of us having more customers as direct clients is for us to better enforce our terms of sale, which are that our products are only to be sold in Canada for Canadian patients and that they are not for export,” said Don Sancton, a spokesman for Pfizer Canada Inc.
Pfizer, whose products include the cholesterol-reducing medicine Lipitor and the arthritis drug Celebrex, is one of several large pharmaceutical companies trying to prevent reimportation of drugs from Canada. In April, AstraZeneca told its customers it would investigate any unusually big orders from its Canadian clients to make sure shipments were not being sent out of the country. Wyeth announced a similar plan in June.
GlaxoSmithKline started the drug company backlash in January when it said it would not sell drugs to pharmacies that sold to the United States, prompting a coalition of U.S. senior citizens’ groups to launch a multi-state boycott of GlaxoSmithKline’s over-the-counter products.
Canadian pharmacists said the phamaceutical industry’s recent crackdown can only hurt U.S. patients who can’t afford the medicines and will put many Canadian pharmacies out of business.
“Last night we went to place an order and were told by the wholesalers that they won’t supply us with Pfizer and Pharmacia products,” said Monty Sikka, president of CanadaPharmacy.com, based in British Columbia. “I had customers phoning me in tears.”
In a letter to Congressmen Rahm Emanuel and Gil Gutknecht, AARP Executive Director William D. Novelli expressed his support for the legalization of drug reimportation.
“Re-importation is not a panacea for the problem of soaring drug costs. But it does hold the potential to place some downward pressure on the double-digit increases in costs that Americans face each year,” Novelli wrote.
It is currently illegal to import drugs from other countries, but U.S. regulators have traditionally turned a blind eye.
The House bill would allow the reimportation of drugs from approved industrialized countries, including much of Europe, Canada and South Africa. These countries have various means of regulating drug prices that often lead to significantly lower prices than in the United States.