Mr. Chair, I am pleased to take part in this evening's debate on Internet pharmacies.
Most hon. members would agree that I have been raising these issues in the House of Commons for a very long time. During the first year after I left cabinet, perhaps even longer ago than that, I was the only member to raise these issues in the House of Commons.
Many things still trouble me. I want to thank the parliamentary secretary and the minister for the plan they presented this evening, which is the first component in creating a drug supply network. This plan was overseen by the Minister of Health. It was a very good idea. We have to ensure the safety of the supply.
The second point is the need for enabling legislation under the Food and Drugs Act that would allow the Government of Canada to prohibit the bulk export of prescription drugs and other essential drugs when the health of Canadians is at stake. The hon. member for Hochelaga mentioned the section under NAFTA that is somewhat related to all this. At least this could be one of the reasons why that section was drafted that way. I intend to discuss this with the minister.
The third point consists in giving more teeth to the current provisions whereby any purchase or sale of prescription drugs should come as a result of consultations held between the patient and the medical practitioner. We must address this issue.
I heard a Conservative member in the House say that it is only those who have an axe to grind who think that the Internet prescription system damages the health care system. I believe I am paraphrasing the way the member put it.
However, Canadian Medical Association's statement on Internet prescribing in 2004 stated that “It is not acceptable for a physician to sign a prescription without properly assessing the patient”, except as indicated above, and there is a whole matrix of how this is to be done, and so on and so forth. This is the position of the Canadian Medical Association, hardly a group with an axe to grind.
Other people are also concerned with this whole business of prescriptions over the Internet in the kind of vacuum that we see now. Let me name a few from a press release that I have which dates back a year ago. I am sure the list is much longer now. It includes: the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities; the Canadian Pharmacists Association; the Canadian Medical Association and I just quoted from its report; the Association of Deans of Pharmacy of Canada; the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, would you believe, Mr. Speaker; the Manitoba Society of Seniors; Pharmacy Alliance for Canadians; and the Coalition for Manitoba Pharmacy.
Even within those jurisdictions, where these kinds of sales are going on in a very big way, certainly it is not supported by everyone there. The professionals in the health care sector say that this is going too far and that it is wrong. It is not me, not the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell. I am not a member of the Canadian Medical Association, much less the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, a province 1,000 miles from my constituency.
On top of that there is a whole number of pharmacies themselves, groups of seniors, and a large number of people, consumer groups and others who tell us that we have to be careful with all of this. They include: the Canadian Hepatitis C Network, Canadian Treatment Action Council, Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance, Best Medicines Coalition, Manitoba Epilepsy Association, British Columbia Persons With AIDS Society. Those are all consumers of medicine who are worried about this.
One cannot say that every single one of these organizations is wrong. Their concerns are legitimate when we start seeing runs on various products, whether they are caused by bulk sales which arguably of course is worse, or whether they are caused by Internet pharmacies all of a sudden selling thousands of prescriptions in an area where they were not selling any the previous year.
I read one example of 175,000 prescriptions where in the previous year only 10 doses of the same thing were sold. No one can say that increasing the sale of something and removing a product from this country where 10 units were removed last year and 175,000 were removed in a few months of this year, that it does not cause a shortage.
It is ridiculous to pretend that. That is not a bulk shipment at all. This has to do with the Internet pharmacies. Then someone says that the Internet pharmacies, after having seen the damage that they have done, have decided that they are not going to do this any more for a little while. That is hardly a redeeming value. Once one creates a mess and then says that one is not going to participate in the mess that one has created for a little while, to me is not good enough.
This is why I think that part of the program announced to us by the parliamentary secretary this evening is so vital, that is, when he says the government wants to establish a system whereby it will be possible to pinpoint one particular medication and say that is it, it is in the national interest that people not be allowed to send any more of this out of the country, whether it is bulk shipment, Internet pharmacies or anybody else, because it threatens the health of Canadians. That is why we are here.
To me, that is why it is so important. We cannot think of medication as little pills that look like candies, even though they do look like that most of the time. This is a very important component of the Canadian health care system. A member of my family is at home right now with pneumonia. She will be angry with me for raising this, but so be it. The prescription costs $100. I thought that was outrageously expensive, except that after three or four days of taking the medication she is getting better. Then what I thought was that about two hours in the hospital would have consumed twice as much as the $100. Maybe if we think of it that way, the medication, which we all think is too expensive, is not expensive if we compare it to the alternative.
The point I am making is how important all of this is for the well-being of Canadians. Prescription medication in particular is so very vital. I am leaving for South America with the Prime Minister in 48 hours to attend the Summit of the Americas, at least I think I am. I need to have a flu shot and a number of things before I leave. They are all provided to us. Countless other Canadians need medication: preventive, a vaccine, as I am going to get, and for treatment, in the case of others who are ill. We just cannot afford to be out of these products at any time. That is why I encourage the minister, as I have been doing for a long time, to be vigilant on this.
I thank the parliamentary secretary and the minister, too, of course. I listened attentively to the parliamentary secretary's presentation. He simply must continue on that track and be even more vigilant in protecting the health of Canadians.