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Drug sales rising yearly, data show

Drug sales rising yearly, data show

Wednesday, June 23, 2004 - Page A2
Source: The Globe and Mail

Canadians seem to have a boundless appetite for drugs.

New data published yesterday show that spending on prescription and non-prescription drugs reached $19.6-billion last year, an 8.1-per-cent jump from the previous year.

"As technological possibilities increase, so does use, so I don't see any drop-off in the foreseeable future," said Paul Grootendorst, an associate professor in the University of Toronto's faculty of pharmacy.

He said that while there is much hand-wringing over these increases, there are also many benefits from prescription drug use, ranging from individual health to savings in other parts of the health system.

The new data, published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, show that of total drug expenditures, 81 per cent were for prescription drugs and 19 per cent for non-prescription drugs.

Of the $16-billion in prescription costs, 47 per cent was paid by governments and the balance by private insurers. In other words, government pays for almost half of all drug costs despite the fact that there is no national pharmacare program. This is because provinces tend to cover drug costs for seniors and social-assistance recipients.

Prof. Grootendorst said it is interesting to note that sharp increases in spending are occurring even though drug prices have remained stable for a number of years."This points to a higher volume of drug use and the entry of new drugs, which are generally introduced to the market at higher prices."

The reason the public share of drug costs has risen, he said, is that many of the biggest-selling medications -- those for heart disease and arthritis, for example -- tend to be used primarily by older people who are on public drug plans.

The CIHI data reveal that drug spending is now $620 per capita across Canada, up from $147 per capita in 1984.

There are sharp regional variations in drug spending, ranging from a low of $192 per capita in Nunavut to a high of $688 in Prince Edward Island.

Internationally, Canada ranks fourth in drug spending as a percentage of total health spending, behind Japan, France and Hungary. (The U.S. is eighth.)

In Canada, drugs account for 16.2 per cent of $121.4-billion in total health costs. Hospitals account for the largest single cost, gobbling up 30 per cent of the pie, while physician services have slipped to third at 12.9 per cent.