Maine pharmacies report loss of sales because of drugs bought from Canada.

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (CP) – Minnesota’s governor, who wants to help Americans link to Canadian Internet pharmacies, is scheduled to visit Winnipeg on Wednesday to see for himself how the industry works.

Last month, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced plans to help people in his state buy cheaper drugs from Canada via the Internet. Those plans would include negotiating drug prices and setting up a web site linking Minnesotans to Canadian pharmacies that meet state standards.

On Wednesday, he was to tour CanadaDrugs.com, where operators fill up to 1,700 prescriptions a day, mostly destined for the United States. Pawlenty also planned to meet with members of the Canadian International Pharmacists Association and Premier Gary Doer.

Pawlenty said he wanted to look into the possibility of importing drugs from Canada and wished to inspect safety measures in Manitoba, the hotbed of the Canadian Internet pharmacy industry.

It’s estimated that more than 1 million Americans order drugs from Canada. In the Canadian border state of Maine, pharmacies report noticeable losses of sales because thousands of Mainers are buying cheaper drugs over the Internet from Canada.

Manitoba raises the U.S. equivalent of more than $100 million in taxes from Internet sales.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opposes the importation of drugs from Canada and other countries, claiming that some drugs don’t meet U.S. specifications on refrigeration and labeling.

Also opposed are big pharmaceutical companies, who say the lost revenue from American sales will stifle their research into new drug treatments. Four drug companies, including Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKlein, have begun limiting supply to Canada to curb exporting.

But Pawlenty isn’t alone in his desire to gain access to the Canadian drug market.

More and more state and local governments are trying to help Americans who can’t afford the high cost of prescription drugs by coming to Canada, where the lower Canadian dollar and regulated prices make the same drugs more affordable.

In Maine, the Penobscot Indians, AFL-CIO and Maine Council of Senior Citizens are looking into establishing a drug importation program in which medicines would be shipped from Canada to the Penobscots’ reservation in Old Town and distributed from there.

Last month, the governor of Illinois sent a delegation to Manitoba on a fact-finding mission and then launched a web site with information about buying drugs from Canadian companies. Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa are also looking into the issue.

Doer said it’s vital that American legislators see for themselves how safe the industry is.

“I think it’s very useful for him to come,” Doer said of Pawlenty. “Getting more comfortable with the consumer safety issues is more helpful to the industry generally.”

Opposition to the international pharmacy industry has been brewing in Canada, where some pharmacists believe it will lead to higher prices and a shortage of drugs in their country.

Robert Fraser, director of pharmacy for CanadaDrugs.com, said there’s no evidence so far that there’s been a shortage, adding that if it ever came to that, his company would sell to Manitobans first.

Next year’s U.S. presidential election is also adding urgency to the debate, he said.


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