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Resellers of Illegally Imported Medications Go to Jail

JailAs I’ve written many times, though technically illegal, patients are not prosecuted for importing medication for their own use. I like how the National Academy for State Health Policy phrases it:

“The FDA chooses to exercise enforcement discretion to not prosecute individuals who fill their prescriptions ex-U.S. so long as the drugs are for personal use and the amount does not exceed a personal-use threshold of 90 days.”

But that courtesy does not (and in many cases should not) extend to people who illegally import wholesale quantities or who import for re-sale of any kind. These people get busted. That’s precisely what happened to a New Hampshire couple, John Hayes and Plabpleung Hayes, who ended up pleading guilty to illegally importing wholesale quantities of medication and reselling it in the U.S.

This illegal drug importation threatens public health and should stand in stark contrast to filling a personal prescription from a pharmacy in Canada or other countries. Ordering medication internationally can be of great help to people who can’t afford medication here in the U.S. and should not be confused with illegal drug importation for re-sale. (more…)

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What Really Happened with CanadaDrugs.com

In a plea bargain signed today with the U.S. Department of Justice, the owners of CanadaDrugs.com are forfeiting their website www.CanadaDrugs.com and other websites they operate to the U.S. government. This is an unfortunate outcome of a case that did not involve medication sales of the popular website CanadaDrugs.com, which has been safely selling medication at low cost to Americans for many years. The case involved a separate wholesale business conducted by the owners of the website. Sadly, two counterfeit batches of the cancer medication, Avastin, entered the supply chain of that wholesale business in 2011 and were sold to medical offices in the U.S. To be clear, Avastin was never sold on the CanadaDrugs.com website.

For some balance and context: in the past, CVS and CVS.com were found to be selling counterfeit Lipitor, yet this did not lead to CVS having to forfeit its website to the U.S. government.

CanadaDrugs.com had been a verified member of the PharmacyChecker Verification Program since 2005. During that time, it likely processed millions of prescriptions and filled them from licensed pharmacies in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. We have verified the licenses of these pharmacies. CanadaDrugs.com voluntarily withdrew from our program in March, aware of the pending deal with the U.S. government. The FDA recognizes that there is no urgency to shutting down CanadaDrugs.com, giving them 90 days to wind down their international retail pharmacy business. In fact, CanadaDrugs.com remains a licensed pharmacy in Manitoba, Canada.

It was necessary for the FDA to investigate and act to prevent medication from being illegally sold at a wholesale level into the U.S. The enforcement discretion used by the FDA for personal importation never extended to those who illegally import and resell medication. We at PharmacyChecker have never condoned such sales. However, the deal struck is likely to do more harm than good by shuttering a good online pharmacy that was operating safely. Making matters worse, this case has been and continues to be used by the pharmaceutical industry to fuel a campaign carried out by its front groups to scare Americans and stop them from buying lower cost, safe and effective medications from pharmacies in other countries.

Interestingly, just as the indictment in this case was slated for release in February of 2015, I sent a report to the members of congress most responsible for regulating the FDA called: “Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation, and Public Health: Ill-Considered Enforcement Prevents Access to Safe and Affordable Medication.” Basically, it was my attempt to explain, with rigorous analysis and research, why shutting down the safest international online pharmacies is bad for public health. It was bad policy then and it remains so now with tens of millions of Americans not filling prescriptions each year because of cost.

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How are Americans importing more affordable medications?

online pharmacyIt’s widely known that Americans buy medications from Canada and other countries because the prices are much lower. What many people do not know is how people are doing this.

Even our foremost scholars on the issue of U.S. pharmaceutical prices don’t know. In an article published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ), readers are informed that:

“A modest proportion of U.S. citizens travel to Canada and Mexico to purchase lower priced prescription drugs.23

That footnote – 23 – links to a 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation Health Survey, which includes the question:

“Have you or another family member living in your household ever bought prescription drugs from Canada or other countries outside the United States in order to pay a lower price, or not?”

Eight percent of respondents said that they had, which is about 20 million Americans, but the survey did not ask how they did it.

The data is far from perfect. I looked at several data sources when I wrote a report in 2015 called Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation and Public Health.  In one analysis of an FDA survey in 2012, I estimated that about six million Americans were purchasing medication from outside the U.S. over the Internet. I believe that figure is somewhat inflated. (more…)

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