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Prescription Pharmaceuticals in Canada: Final Report

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About the Study

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Why did the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology undertake a study of prescription pharmaceuticals in Canada?

Public and health care professionals have become increasingly concerned about the testing, implementation and use of prescription drugs, putting into question Health Canada’s ability to effectively regulate prescription drugs. Among the issues that motivated the committee to carry out a thorough review of these issues in Canada:

  • Clinical trials conducted in Canada have been declining in recent years, depriving Canadians of rapid access to new medicines as well as the necessary expertise once the medications are approved;
  • Health Canada’s monitoring of the safety and effectiveness of approved pharmaceuticals in the general population has been inadequate with only a fraction of adverse reactions being reported and studied by Health Canada;
  • The extensive “off-label use” of pharmaceuticals (in populations or for conditions not included in original testing) has led to concerns about proper protection for patients. Serious adverse reactions to pharmaceuticals, especially in children and the elderly, have raised alarms;
  • The globalization of pharmaceutical production has resulted in concerns over quality, with counterfeit pharmaceuticals sold predominantly over the internet. These issues present growing challenges;
  • The increasing incidence of resistance to existing antibiotics is a growing global concern.

Which aspects of the Food and Drugs Act were addressed in this study?

In fall 2014, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology completed a four-phase study on prescription pharmaceuticals in Canada. Reports on each of the 4 four phases of this study were tabled over the course of two years. These were:

In addition, a roundtable discussion with 16 expert witnesses was held on 6 June 2014 to get an update on Canada’s clinical trial infrastructure and to explore certain issues that either spanned several phases of the study or that required further inquiry.

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What did the committee discover?

The study enabled the committee to highlight the need for improved measures to enhance the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs for all Canadians. The committee was told by almost all witnesses taking part in this study that Canada’s Food and Drugs Act is outdated and in need of modernization. Throughout the course of the four-phase study, the committee made a total of 79 recommendations to address some of the challenges facing prescription drugs that have an impact on the health and safety of Canadians. Efforts must focus on strengthening and enhancing the regulatory framework with respect to the testing, approval and use of new prescription drugs in Canada. Many recommendations called for the Minister of Health to foster greater collaboration between the provinces on standardized approaches to electronic data collection to facilitate research and policy decisions.

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Photo of stethoscope and prescription medicine sitting on a laptop computer

How does a study of prescription pharmaceuticals in Canada benefit Canadians?

Prescription pharmaceuticals provide a considerable benefit to Canadians but they also present some risk. Canadians expect that medicines approved for sale in this country will be effectively regulated so as to optimize the benefits while minimizing the risks. The committee believes that implementation of the recommendations put forward in its four reports are critical for addressing the issues associated with the production, testing, implementation and use of prescriptions drugs in Canada. The implementation of its recommendations will result in improved access to innovative medicine for Canadians and a strengthened drug safety system.

Senators who participated in this study

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Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie
C - (Annapolis Valley - Hants - Nova Scotia)

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Deputy Chair
Art Eggleton, P.C.
Lib. - (Ontario)

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Maria Chaput
Lib. - (Manitoba)

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Jane Cordy
Lib. - (Nova Scotia)

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Tobias C. Enverga Jr.
C - (Ontario)

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Nancy Ruth
C - (Cluny - Ontario)

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Judith G. Seidman
C - (De la Durantaye - Quebec)

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Carolyn Stewart Olsen
C - (New Brunswick)

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John Wallace
C - (New Brunswick)

Ex-officio members of the committee:
The Honourable Senators Claude Carignan, P.C. (or Yonah Martin) and James S. Cowan (or Joan Fraser)

Other Senators who have participated from time to time in the study:
The Honourable Senators Ataullahjan, Bellemare, Beyak, Callbeck, Campbell, Demers, Doyle, Hubley, Housakos, Lang, Maltais, McInnis, Mercer, Moore, Munson, Neufeld, Oh, Peterson, Plett, Raine, Rivard, Seth, Tannas and Verner, P.C..

Contact information

General Information:
613-990-0088 or 1-800-267-7362


Mailing Address:
Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology
The Senate of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1A 0A4