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Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor speaks at a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on July 22, 2019.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Concern over U.S. legislation that allows Americans to import cheaper medicines from Canada has prompted more than a dozen organizations to urge the federal government to safeguard the Canadian drug supply.

In a letter this week, the 15 groups representing patients, health professionals, hospitals, and pharmacists warn Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor of the potential for increasing drug shortages.

“The Canadian medicine supply is not sufficient to support both Canadian and U.S. consumers,” the letter states. “The supply simply does not, and will not, exist within Canada to meet such demands.”

Faced with voter anger over the steep and rising costs of drugs in the United States, several states – including Florida with the blessing of U.S. President Donald Trump – have passed laws allowing residents to import drugs from Canada.

In the letter to Ms. Petitpas Taylor, the groups say the legislation could exacerbate drug shortages that became an increasingly serious concern in the Canadian health-care system in recent years.

“Hospital and community pharmacies in Canada are resourced to serve the Canadian public,” they say. “They are not equipped to support to the needs of a country 10 times its size without creating important access or quality issues.”

A spokesman for Petitpas Taylor said in an email Friday the government opposes any initiatives that could adversely affect the supply or cost of prescription drugs.

“We continue our work to lower drug prices for Canadians and ensure they have uninterrupted access to the prescription drugs they need,” Thierry Belair said.

The issue has recently garnered attention on both sides of the border. Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, has announced plans to accompany diabetics this weekend to Canada to buy life-saving insulin, which costs roughly one-10th of the U.S. price on this side of the border.

Late last month, another group of Type 1 diabetics from Minnesota crossed the border to buy insulin in London, Ont. One of the organizers said soaring prices south of the border had forced some users to ration their doses with potentially serious health consequences.

Drug supplies are already an issue in Canada. In recent years, Canadian drug makers have reported thousands of shortages for various reasons – often because of manufacturing issues but also because of increased demand. U.S. legislative initiatives could make matters much worse, the letter states.

According to data from the National Academy for State Health Policy, more than 27 different bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures over the past year allowing Americans to buy drugs from Canadian sources.

Signatories to the letter, including the Canadian Pharmacists Association, Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, urge Ottawa to take action to head off an American “draining of Canada’s medicine supply.”

“We request that Health Canada provide clarity and assurances to Canadians that U.S. legislation will not inadvertently disrupt Canada’s pharmaceutical supply and negatively impact patient care through greater drug shortages,” the letter states.

The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies Canada said more permissive import legislation in the United States could push Canadian and American patients to access drugs through unlicensed websites, putting them at risk for counterfeit or substandard medicines.

“Importing drugs from Canada could not only hurt the Canadian supply of medications and impact patient care, but U.S. consumers will be at greater risk to receive unapproved and potentially dangerous drugs,” said Libby Baney of the alliance.

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