The Wall Street Journal reports that companies controlled by the online pharmacy Canada Drugs have agreed to plead guilty in U.S. federal court to charges of selling counterfeit and misbranded pharmaceuticals in the U.S., concluding an investigation that began in 2012 with the discovery of fake cancer medications on the market. According to the article:
“The firms agreed to forfeit $29 million, which they said equaled the proceeds from the illegal sales from 2009 to 2012, according to a plea agreement filed in district court in Montana this week. They also agreed to pay a fine of $5 million, to surrender their internet domain names and to cease all U.S. sales of counterfeit, misbranded or adulterated drugs.”
The practice of importing prescription drugs from abroad is a dangerous and risky endeavor, which has garnered attention from several prominent law enforcement and safety experts including former-FBI Director Louis Freeh, four former FDA commissioners, and a former Canadian health minister over the years. While the Canadian government works to ensure the safety and authenticity of medicines entering their market that are intended for use by patients in Canada, they do not apply those standards for medicines intended for export only. Such a move poses significant safety risks to American consumers and would likely not result in substantial net cost savings. In this particular case, the Journal points out:
“Since its founding in 2001, Canada Drugs became well known for selling low-cost cholesterol and asthma medications to American consumers through its website, CanadaDrugs.com. In its early years the company sold medicines it sourced from Canadian suppliers, according to former employees. The drugs were less expensive because of Canadian price controls.
“But a 2012 investigation by The Wall Street Journal found that Canada Drugs eventually began buying pharmaceuticals in far-flung countries that drug-safety experts said had problems with counterfeiting and lax regulation.”
A recent FDA evaluation confirms these dangerous allegations, revealing that while nearly half of imported drugs claimed to be Canadian or from Canadian pharmacies, 85% of such drugs were actually from different countries. And if the data isn’t enough, even the Canadian government has stated, “Health Canada does not assure that products being sold to U.S. citizens are safe, effective, and of high quality, and does not intend to do so in the future.” As explained in the piece:
“The company also began selling foreign-made medications to U.S. doctors, which administer some drugs to patients and were also attracted by the lower prices. The sale of such foreign-made drugs is illegal because the medications are considered misbranded, meaning they aren’t made in facilities inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or labeled in accordance with U.S. law.
“The Wall Street Journal found that in the final months of 2011, companies controlled by Canada Drugs sold counterfeit batches of the cancer drug Avastin to U.S. doctors. After the sales came to light, Mr. Thorkelson acknowledged Canada Drugs’ role in a meeting with staff members and said he and the business units involved hadn’t known the drugs were fake, people present at the meeting told the Journal.”
As BIO’s Jim Greenwood has noted before, U.S drug manufacturers take pride in putting the safety of patients first, and importing prescription drugs from foreign countries like Canada is a highly questionable practice that simply does not ensure safety – or savings. To learn more about the challenges associated with drug importation, head over to DrugCostFacts.com.