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Americans' drug purchases could lead to shortages for Canadians

Canadians might face shortages of prescription drugs as Americans buy up large amounts of the less costly pharmaceuticals, officials say.

Canadian products can be as much as 60 percent less expensive for Americans due to government price controls and a higher-valued U.S. dollar.

Health Minister Anne McLellan is investigating if pharmacists are running low on supplies but said there is no evidence that's actually happening.

Americans bought $800-million in prescription drugs from Canada last year, either in person or over the Internet, according to a study.

Now, U.S. officials are warning there might be shortages if governments on both sides of the border cannot stem the exports to the U.S.

William Hubbard of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said if Illinois goes ahead with a plan to fill prescriptions from Canada, shortages will be inevitable within a month or two.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said the state could save about $100-million a year by ordering Canadian prescription drugs for state employees and retirees.

California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York City, as well as smaller cities in Massachusetts and Vermont, are considering doing the same.

Prime minister might

retire earlier than planned

Prime Minister Jean Chretien is giving signs he might retire sooner than planned.

He will discuss his exit, set for next February, with leader-in-waiting Paul Martin after the Liberal leadership convention next month. Chretien has long maintained he will not retire earlier but a few days ago said he will leave "between now and February."

Liberal spokesman Jim Munson said: "Put it this way; he'll do what's good for the party, the country and the government."

Critics have said Chretien, 69, is a lame duck and the delay in transferring power to Martin is hurting democracy.

News in brief

Despite assurances the books were balanced, Ontario's defeated Conservative government left the province with a $5.6-billion deficit, according to an independent assessment. Now Premier Dalton McGuinty said he will have to move ahead with deregulating subsidized electricity rates, eliminating tax cuts and ordering a government hiring freeze.

Liberal members of Parliament have rejected by a 168-38 vote a Bloc Quebecois motion calling on the House of Commons to recognize Quebec as a nation. The motion by Bloc MP Yves Rocheleau also wanted the largely French-speaking province "to withdraw, with full compensation, from all federal initiatives that infringe upon Quebec's jurisdiction."

The family of abducted Toronto schoolgirl Cecilia Zhang is turning to the true-crime show America's Most Wanted for help. A film crew went to the girl's house to prepare a segment for this weekend's show on the search for the 9-year-old. Rewards of $85,000 are being offered for her return. Police suspect she was kidnapped for profit but the motive remains undetermined.

Facts and figures

Canada's dollar slipped a little over the past week to 75.83 cents U.S., while the U.S. dollar is worth $1.3187 Canadian, before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate is unchanged at 2.75 percent and the prime lending rate is 4.5 percent.

Canadian stock exchanges are higher, with the Toronto index at 7,772 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange 1,565 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 8, 9, 22, 29, 37 and 49; bonus 33. (Oct. 25) 8, 13, 16, 19, 33 and 49; bonus 26.

Regional briefs

Newfoundland's new premier is Danny Williams, whose Conservative government ended almost 15 years of Liberal rule on the island. Polls predicted the defeat of Liberal Premier Roger Grimes to Williams, a self-made millionaire, who pledged to bring long-promised prosperity to one of Canada's poorest provinces. The Conservatives had 34 members elected while the Liberals fell to 12 elected from the previous 27 and the socialist New Democrats were unchanged with two members.

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein wants to freeze auto insurance rates until his government can come up with acceptable insurance reforms. Klein's recommendation comes after newly elected Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty froze auto insurance rates in Ontario.

Several thousand British Columbians got wrong results when they were tested for two types of sexually transmitted diseases. A problem with a diagnostic machine in Cranbrook meant test results were reversed over an 18-month period. "If you were a positive, you would have received a negative reading; if you were a negative, you would have received a positive reading," said Alison Paine of the Interior Health Authority.

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