January 30, 2003 By Tom Cohen
GlaxoSmithKline said last week it would cut off wholesalers if they supply the company's products to 29 blacklisted pharmacies that sell medicine from Canada to U.S. customers.
Wayne Rivers, chief executive officer of United Pharmacists Ltd., said in a telephone interview his company had no choice but to comply with the GlaxoSmithKline directive.
Otherwise, he said, a cutoff in GlaxoSmithKline products would have left Canadian customers unable to get needed medicine.
Some popular medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other chronic conditions are significantly cheaper in Canada, where the government regulates prices.
Scores of the so-called Internet pharmacies, many operating in Manitoba, have realized huge increases in sales from the U.S. market in the past year. Rough estimates put total annual revenues as high as US$650 million.
Rivers said 12 of his clients were on the GlaxoSmithKline list, and he sent them a letter that said United Pharmacists had to quit supplying them to safeguard its supply in Canada. GlaxoSmithKline provides some medicines that have no generic alternative, he said.
"The threat of having interruption of Glaxo supply is just not an option," Rivers said, describing his company as Manitoba's largest drug wholesaler and one of the top five in Canada.
He said GlaxoSmithKline would deal with the pharmacists individually, allowing them to purchase directly if they agreed to stop supplying U.S. patients or authorizing the wholesaler to resume supplies.
"We will not ship to those customers unless we have a directive from Glaxo saying we can do so," Rivers said.
The pressure from GlaxoSmithKline to halt the practice could bring a court battle. Colin MacArthur, a lawyer for the Manitoba International Pharmacists Association, said a decision could come within a week on whether to take legal action.
Rep. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said Wednesday he would propose legislation within a week intended to maintain the sale of Canadian drugs to American customers.
"Americans have the right to purchase safe and affordable medicine from Canada," Sanders said in a statement.
GlaxoSmithKline contends the cross-border flow of drugs raises possible safety problems in the shipping of the medicine and monitoring of patients.
The pharmacists say the issue is money, with GlaxoSmithKline protecting higher profits in the United States for the same medicine sold at a cheaper price in Canada. Sanders agreed, saying that the health concerns raised by GlaxoSmithKline were questionable.
"The real `health and safety' issue is that the pharmaceutical industry is prepared to endanger the well-being of Americans who are suffering and dying because they cannot afford the outrageously high price of prescription drugs in this country," Sanders said.
GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman Alison Steeves said the company is enforcing the terms of sale, which specify the products sold to Canadian wholesalers are for distribution in Canada only.
Some Internet pharmacists in Manitoba say they have enough GlaxoSmithKline products on hand to continue filling U.S. orders for a few weeks.
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