May 28, 2015—A new report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) — Prescribed Drug Spending in Canada, 2013 — reveals that while Canadians continued to save money on generic drugs, those savings were offset by increased spending on newer classes of biologic drugs.

Between 2008 and 2013, public drug program spending on 5 of the top 10 drug classes declined. In each of these 5 drug classes — statins (commonly used to treat high cholesterol); PPIs (commonly used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease); ACE inhibitors (commonly used to lower blood pressure); selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (commonly used to treat depression); and diazepines, oxazepines, thiazepines and oxepines (commonly used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) — patents on commonly used chemicals expired, allowing for the entry of lower-priced generic versions.

“We’ve seen significant savings on drug spending as the result of patents expiring, lower-cost generic drugs being introduced, and the provinces and territories implementing generic pricing policies. But we’re also seeing significant increases in spending on other drug classes, and on biologic drugs in particular.”

– Jordan Hunt, Pharmaceuticals manager at CIHI

4 of the 10 drug classes that contributed most to the growth of public drug spending are classes of drugs known as biologics, with tumour necrosis factor (TNF) alpha inhibitors (anti-TNF drugs, commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease) contributing the most.

Prescription drug spending at a glance

  • Public-sector spending on prescribed drugs in 2014 is forecast to be $12.1 billion, representing 42.0% of prescribed drug spending.
  • 10 drug classes accounted for about a third of public drug program spending in 2013. Tumour necrosis factor alpha inhibitors accounted for the highest proportion of spending.
  • 6 of the top 10 drug classes were used to treat conditions related to the cardiovascular and
    nervous systems.
  • In total, prescribed drug spending is expected to reach $28.8 billion, accounting for 85.0% of total drug spending ($33.9 billion) and 13.4% of total health expenditure.

This report drew from CIHI’s National Health Expenditure Database (NHEX) and National Prescription Drug Utilization Information System (NPDUIS) Database.

About NHEX

2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the National Health Expenditure Database (NHEX). It provides aggregate level data by category, source of funding, province/territory and year on all health expenditures across the country. One of CIHI’s founding databases, NHEX has become indispensable to government stakeholders responsible for fiscal planning of the health care system. You can access the most recent NHEX update.

About the NPDUIS Database

CIHI collects and analyzes information on health and health care in Canada and makes it publicly available. Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments created CIHI as a not-for-profit, independent organization dedicated to forging a common approach to Canadian health information. CIHI’s goal: to provide timely, accurate and comparable health information. CIHI’s data and reports inform health policies, support the effective delivery of health services and raise awareness about the factors that contribute to good health and health care.