The FDA’s recent press release announcing its activities in Operation Pangea XI, an enforcement operation to “crack down on websites selling illegal, potentially dangerous drugs; including opioids,” is conspicuously inaccurate about CanadaDrugs.com, which was forced to close its operations back in July. For a more general analysis of Operation Pangea XI, see my post from last week.
CanadaDrugs.com vs. CanadaDrugs
CanadaDrugs.com was the biggest Canadian online pharmacy for well over a decade. During its 17 years in business, it estimated that people ordered one billion dollars in medicines. During that time, not a single adverse reaction was ever reported by the FDA or any health agency. Their business relied on the fact that Americans are never prosecuted for personal drug importation. The law permits, and Congress has recognized the importance of, the FDA using enforcement discretion to allow personal drug imports so people can afford medicine.
Last week, the FDA reported on its enforcement efforts against illegal and “potentially dangerous” online drug sales in Operation Pangea XI, a global initiative run by INTERPOL in cooperation with over one hundred drug regulators. Also, President Trump signed H.R. 6, The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act. I wish it was all about stopping rogue online pharmacies and ending the opioid crisis, but it’s not.
How Pangea XI and the SUPPORT Act are Related
The FDA is highlighting the SUPPORT Act and its effort in Pangea as important parts of the solution to stopping illegal online sales of addictive opioid drugs. The SUPPORT Act gives the FDA new authorities to stop illegal drug imports. So, what does this have to do with safe personal drug importation from pharmacies that require a prescription?
Before continuing, I can’t help note and show you that INTERPOL’s Pangea is funded by drug companies for this work. It’s this Pharma-funded initiative in which FDA plays a crucial role. The FDA does focus resources on shutting down some bad rouge sites, but it seems to also assist PhRMA in ways that curtail online access by Americans to lower-cost medicines from pharmacies in other countries.
There are potentially tens of thousands of dangerous pharmacy websites, sometimes referred to as “rogue online pharmacies,” polluting the Internet and endangering the health of consumers worldwide. There are a much smaller group of safe domestic online pharmacies. Then there are an even smaller group of safe international online pharmacies, ones that we have verified, that sell many medications at much lower cost. However, when Americans purchase from these international online pharmacies (often because they can’t afford medication domestically) and import safe and effective medications, they are under most circumstances violating U.S. laws, which poses a quandary for regulators, public health officials, and even some people working over at Big Pharma. What’s right and wrong? How do we get rid of the rogues without overreaching and endangering public health by stopping Americans from obtaining safe medication internationally over the Internet?