March 6, 2014—Last year, $29.3 billion was spent on prescription drugs in Canada, but the annual growth rate was the second-lowest in more than 20 years, according to a new report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

This slower growth in spending—2.3% in 2013—was due to increased use of less-expensive generic drugs and related pricing policies, reveals Prescribed Drug Spending in Canada, 2012: A Focus on Public Drug Programs. In total, prescription drugs accounted for 85% of the $34.5 billion that was spent on all drugs last year.

Other highlights

  • Generic drugs account for the majority of use but less than half of spending in public drug programs.
    • In 2012, they made up 72.4% of claims but only 38.8% of spending.
    • Use of generics is increasing because several of the most commonly prescribed drugs are now available in generic form.
  • The majority of public drug spending is for a small number of high-cost individuals.
    • More than 60% of public drug money is used for 12% of Canadians, each of whom has $2,500+ worth of prescription drugs paid for by public programs.

This information is based on data from eight provinces—Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia—and one federal program administered by the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.