People buying medications to fill prescriptions in Canada or other countries because prices are too high domestically don’t get prosecuted for it. But people who import drugs illegally and resell them—especially controlled drugs, like prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines— get busted and go to jail for a pretty long time. Even seemingly small-time drug dealers.
As reported in Madawaska, Maine’s local news WABI5, Tristan Nelson was sentenced to a year and a half behind bars for illegally importing 950 pills of Ritalin (an amphetamine) and 450 pills of Xanax (a benzodiazepine) from the Philippines with intent to sell.
Of note is that neither of the medications was a prescription opioid, which is the highest enforcement priority of the U.S. FDA. Addiction to non-opioid controlled drugs, however, is also a public health problem, and clearly law enforcement takes illegal imports of them seriously.
The short story reported in WABI5 simply noted: “Nelson admitted to investigators he ordered the pills and planned to sell them.” It did not say how he ordered them, such as from a rogue online pharmacy, but perhaps I’ll find his court documents later this month to find out more.
Rogue online pharmacies selling controlled drugs for import, and domestic drug dealing, menace the Internet. But according to government data, they are not a major factor in the nation’s crisis with drug addiction and overdose.
FDA enforcement actions leading to prosecution, fines and/or jail for illegal drug importation focus on illegal wholesale importation of all prescription drugs, whether controlled or non-controlled prescription drugs. While it prioritizes counterfeit drugs, the illegal imports can be lawfully-manufactured, safe and effective. Recently, its focus is on stopping imports of fentanyl, mostly its ingredients. Part of that battle is stopping Internet activity that leads to the illegal fentanyl trade. Such ingredients, ordered online and then imported, are used to make fake opioid prescription drugs, which have exacerbated our nation’s crisis with drug addiction and overdose.
Tagged with: controlled drugs, fentanyl, Madawaska, opioids
The FDA is warning 21 online pharmacies to stop selling certain prescription opioid drugs to people in the U.S.
According to the FDA, the 21 websites at issue are operated by four separate networks:
Each network received a similar warning letter from the FDA, which singles out their alleged illegal sales of unapproved and misbranded tramadol, also noting that a prescription was not required.
Tagged with: fentanyl, opioids, tarbell, tramadol, warning letters
Last week, I published an article about new cooperation between Internet companies and the FDA undertaken to supposedly stamp out illegal opioid sales on the Internet, yet slides consciously into stopping imports of safe, lower-cost medicines. The article talked about the FDA’s Online Opioid Summit, which was held last Wednesday.
That summit was covered effectively (as much as possible) in this article from Tarbell to uncover further proof that the agency is, in fact, targeting online sales of regular, lower-cost medicines, which are imported for personal use. Reporter Michael McAuliff noted that the so-called public summit was mostly closed-door and very secretive. Reporters were not invited. Pharma, however, was well represented.
Apparently, it was the Internet companies who wanted privacy, perhaps to conceal efforts at stopping opioid sales on their platforms to not tip off the drug dealers. It could also be that they are ashamed of bowing to demands to censor content that Big Pharma/the FDA finds objectionable. Time will tell.
To his credit, Mr. McAuliff asks how big of a contributor to illegal opioid sales the Internet actually is. According to a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one tenth of one percent (0.1%) of illegally obtained prescription narcotics (opioids) are purchased online.
According to staff at the Internet Association, a trade group that represents about 40 large Internet firms, including Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Go Daddy, 3.4% of people abusing opioids obtain them from online sources. I have yet to find the survey, but will try to do so and write about it soon.
So how do we know that actions taken by the FDA to curtail illegal opioid sales online are being used against safe personal drug importation as well? The best example is the increased numbers of prescription orders being seized by the FDA using funding by Congress that was appropriated for stopping illegal opioid imports, particularly the drug Fentanyl and its analogs. As Tarbell finds, most such seizures are not opioids but regular prescription medicines.
The Tarbell article quotes FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb owning up to this:
“We’ll use [the increased funding from Congress] to interdict more illegal products flowing across our borders, including products ordered online, as well as shifting more of our criminal investigative resources to target these online sales. This is a conscious policy decision by the FDA, and we believe these online sales represent one of the highest areas of risk facing Americans right now.”
Tens of thousands of deaths occur each year from opioid overdose. A small fraction of those drugs were purchased online and those sales must be stopped! However, the tragedy of opioid abuse should not be used like this to stop people from getting more affordable medicines from Canada and other countries.
Tagged with: Internet association, opioids, summit, tarbell