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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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Google Online Pharmacy Settlement With DOJ Hurts American Patients, According to AEI Scholar

Last week, Roger Bate, an economist and expert in counterfeit drugs with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote an article called “Google’s Ad Freedom Wrongly Curtailed.” Bate’s piece shows how banning safe foreign online pharmacies from advertising on Google and elsewhere is not only unethical but will lead to sub-optimal health outcomes. As we wrote at the end of August, the non-prosecution agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Google, in which the search engine was fined $500 million for allowing rouge Canadian sites to advertise controlled substances, is good because it forces Google to now block dangerous rogue online pharmacies from advertising. At the same time, however, it’s bad because it appears to prevent Google from allowing safe and affordable Canadian-based online pharmacies form advertising as well.

The DOJ/Google settlement appears to reflect the false rhetoric espoused by the U.S. government and pharmaceutical industry that only U.S. online pharmacies can be safe. Bate knows this is not true based on his own empirical studies, which found that properly credentialed non-U.S. online pharmacies sell genuine medication at a lower cost and require a prescription.  By blocking safe Canadian pharmacies from advertising to Americans on Google, it is more difficult for needy Americans to find them. Bate writes:

Google’s current policy removes the potentially lethal sellers, but by disallowing credentialed foreign sites from advertising it will harm public health. The tens of millions of uninsured Americans who cannot afford their drugs will go online to circumvent this obstruction. If they are unaware of pharmacychecker.com’s credentialing, they will play Russian roulette and may end up buying a lethal product.

With media outlets and politicians inundated with a voracious pharmaceutical industry public relations assault that seeks to paint all non-U.S. online pharmacies as rogue, the victim here is the American seeking affordable medication online because he or she can’t afford it here at home. Bate wrote: “What is surprising is that independent groups, like Consumer Reports and AARP, have bought into this industry rhetoric or have failed to properly explain to their members that foreign doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous.” (more…)

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