PharmacyChecker Blog

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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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Recent Arrests in Canada

On June 14 and 15, 2017, several individuals were arrested in Manitoba and British Columbia, Canada (CBC News – Manitoba) pursuant to a U.S. extradition request relating to a 2015 U.S. federal indictment of the parties on charges of illegal wholesale importation of medication into the U.S. including one batch of Avastin alleged to be counterfeit. That indictment pertains to events occurring between 2009-2011. PharmacyChecker.com strongly condemns any manufacturing and trafficking in counterfeit drugs.

Some of the individuals arrested in Manitoba, all of whom have been released on bail and are scheduled to appear in court in Canada on July 12, are also owners and/or executives of CanadaDrugs.com, Ltd. which operated a wholesale business and an online retail website. The indictment focused on the wholesale business (an area which CanadaDrugs has long since exited) and not on its website that sells medication directly to individuals for their own use pursuant to a valid prescription, does not sell Avastin, and remains licensed by the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba and an approved member of the PharmacyChecker Verification Program. We are not aware of any incident involving the sale of counterfeit medicine from CanadaDrugs.com during its 12 years operating as an approved member of our PharmacyChecker Verification Program.

We continue to closely follow this case and will post information about it, as we have done in the past.

Update: It was falsely reported on the LegitScript.com blog on July 6, 2017 that individuals connected with this case “had been extradited to the United States” (as shown below). This is incorrect and no such extraditions have occurred.  False and/or misleading reporting by LegitScript has occurred in the past in what appear to be attempts to foster negative perceptions of the practice of personal drug importation and of our own work in helping to make it safe. LegitScript is a company founded by John Horton, whom we have asked the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate for possible government ethics violations.

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Montana Case Against CanadaDrugs:  What Consumers Should Know

Almost three years ago, we blogged about a federal investigation of CanadaDrugs.com, which for many years has safely sold prescription medication at prices far lower than typically available in the U.S, and which is a verified online pharmacy in the PharmacyChecker.com Verification Program. The investigation focused on CanadaDrugs.com’s wholesale drug importation and distribution to doctors and clinics — an area CanadaDrugs.com has long since exited. It did not focus on CanadaDrugs.com’s retail sales to consumers for personal use, which is the focus of the PharmacyChecker.com Verification Program and the information we provide to consumers on our website about online pharmacies.

Recently, an indictment was unsealed in federal district court in Montana that charged CanadaDrugs.com, Ltd. (the entity which owns CanadaDrugs.com) and others with illegal wholesale drug importation, which allegedly occurred between three to six years ago.  The allegations include wholesale distribution of a counterfeit version of the cancer drug Avastin to medical clinics in the U.S.

The indictment of CanadaDrugs, Ltd, comes as no surprise, as the investigation was well publicized. It will also come as no surprise, however, when the U.S. pharmaceutical industry tries to use the charges, which focus exclusively on wholesale drug importation, in an effort to discredit safe personal drug importation. As we have written here and opined in the New York Times, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and pharmacy chains feel threatened because Americans can and do safely purchase their medications online at substantially lower cost from pharmacies in other countries. Thus, the industry, the “non-profit” groups it funds, and the government agencies which it lobbies and seeks to influence, will see this indictment as yet one more opportunity to scare people from personal drug importation.  This slight of hand is wrong, since the investigation and indictment have nothing to do with personal drug importation. In fact, even the Wall Street Journal, which was instrumental in publicizing the investigation, clarified the difference between wholesale businesses and CanadaDrugs.com:  “There is no indication that fake medicines were sold through the company’s consumer-focused website, CanadaDrugs.com.”

(more…)

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