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January 25, 2012
Fewer drugs covered under provincial formularies

A national review of provincial and territorial drugs indicates that fewer new prescription medications are being covered by government drug care plans.

According to a study by the University of Alberta published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, the number of new prescription medications approved for provincial formulary coverage dropped substantially after the 2003 formation of the Common Drug Review (CDR), the national agency responsible for assessing the efficacy, safety and cost-effectiveness of new drugs.

Approximately 200 new drugs were approved for use in Canada over the past
10 years but only 53 were accepted for inclusion in provincial or territorial formularies by the CDR.

The University of Alberta study says that prior to the formation of the CDR, new drugs comprised between 47 and 66 per cent of provincial and territorial drug formularies.  Today that number ranges from 12 to 40 per cent.

However, that reduction may not necessarily be a bad thing, according to study author Dr. Dean Eurich.

“I don’t know that it’s actually a detriment to the public,” he said.  “In many medication categories, for instance, blood pressure drugs or anti-depressants, there may be five or six similar versions of the drug already on the market.  Adding another and typically more expensive brand of these ‘me too’ drugs may not be in the public interest.”

Changes in pharmaceutical manufacturing processes may also be influencing the composition of provincial formularies, the University of Alberta researcher says.  

According to his report, pharmaceutical companies are now focusing on the research, development and introduction of complex, specialized drugs to treat specific diseases or conditions rather than treatments for generalized primary care conditions such as high blood pressure.

“The drugs that are coming to market may still be valuable but they’re for very specialized types of care,” Dr. Eurich notes.

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