HALIFAX - Ottawa is willing to join with the provinces in a plan to save millions of dollars by buying drugs in bulk.
Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Friday after meeting with her provincial counterparts in Halifax that the drug-purchasing deal interests her. The comment came just a day after the ministers complained about Ottawa's lack of co-operation in health care.
"I expressed a willingness for the federal government to possibly be involved in the bulk drug purchasing plans that provinces are considering," Aglukkaq said at a news conference in Halifax.
Health Canada purchases about $400 million worth of medicines a year for aboriginal Canadians through its Non-Insured Health Benefits program.
The federal government also purchases drugs for the Canadian Forces and other federal departments, making it the fifth-largest drug purchaser in the country.
David Wilson, Nova Scotia's health minister and the chair of the conference, didn't comment at the news conference about the provinces' response.
Steve Outhouse, a spokesman for the federal minister, said the provincial ministers told Aglukkaq they would take her proposal back to the premiers to see if they want to allow Ottawa in.
The premiers announced in July during Council of Federation meetings in Halifax that they would work together to purchase drugs in bulk.
At the time, premiers said they were looking for ways to make the health-care system more efficient and save money in the absence of federal leadership.
The premiers have complained repeatedly about Ottawa's unilateral approach to deciding transfer payments for health and in making health policies.
During Friday's meeting, the provincial ministers presented Aglukkaq with a unanimous request for Health Canada to delay the sanctioning of a generic form of OxyContin — a slow-release painkiller that street addicts grind up and use for a potent high.
Deb Matthews, Ontario's health minister, has said she is worried about the abuse and misuse of the prescription narcotic, and that it's led to street trafficking and deaths in her province.
She says a brand-name replacement for OxyContin — OxyNeo — is proving to be more difficult to grind up and turn into powders of liquids for illicit use.
OxyContin's patent expires on Nov. 25, and Health Canada says it has received applications for generic versions of the drug in the Canadian market.
Aglukkaq said at the news conference that politicians don't decide what drugs are approved for distribution.
She added Ottawa was willing to work with the provinces to improve methods to reduce prescription drug abuse, such as using improved computer monitoring systems for pharmacists.
However, she cautioned that banning or delaying a generic form of OxyContin would have a downside.
"We also have to be very mindful of the fact we have patients who need this product, particularly cancer patients and people with chronic back pain," she said.