The Partnership for Safe Medicines
Weekly Update March 8, 2010
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Online Pharmacies, Free Trade Zones and Counterfeit Drugs

Nearly four years ago, Americans were warned against buying prescription drugs from Web sites linked to Canada's biggest mail-order pharmacies, Mediplan Prescription Plus Pharmacy-also known as RxNorth-after laboratory tests of intercepted shipments detected counterfeits. Among the counterfeits were widely prescribed medications for heart disease and cholesterol.

At the time, Mediplan's Founder and President Andrew Strempler criticized FDA and the pharmaceutical industry for attempting to "halt drug sales to U.S. citizens at fair prices," adding that they had never had problems with the products sold to consumers.

But last week, the Montreal Gazette reported that Strempler lost his pharmaceutical credentials-prohibiting him from practicing his trade in the province of Manitoba where Mediplan is based. According to the Gazette, "Experts say it's the most severe penalty that can be handed to a pharmacist."

However on Friday, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that Strempler began operating an ancillary company, PharmaCheck, "in a free trade zone in Curacao in August 2006," the same year the FDA warned consumers about buying drugs from RxNorth. According to the Free Press, Strempler is "distributing generic drugs from an online pharmaceutical business based on an island off the coast of Venezuela" while he reportedly resides in Panama.

While the investigation of Strempler and his related properties remain open, it serves as a reminder that not all online pharmacies are not subject to the same standards as their brick and mortar counterparts.

Moreover, it raises the issue of free trade zones-originally created to encourage legitimate trade, they have been found to obstruct anti-counterfeiting efforts due to waived tariffs and lax regulatory oversight, creating opportunities for fraud.

The New York Times reported on this growing problem in December 2007-a story that, incidentally, linked RxNorth to a nearly $4 million drug raid in the Bahamas.

According to PSM board member Tom Kubic, "An online pharmacy operating in a foreign country's free trade zone and shipping remotely is not considered a pharmacy in that country, and therefore not regulated by any pharmacy regulator at all," posing an additional threat to consumers who turn to the Web to fill prescriptions.

PSM is home to a plethora of fact sheets related to drug safety, including a checklist for medicine safety, tips for saving money on prescription drugs, as well as facts about ordering drugs from Canada.
Top News

Canada: Pharmacist Loses License for Selling Counterfeit Drugs


One of Canada's Internet pharmacy pioneers has lost his credentials to practice in Manitoba after a three-year probe into allegations he sold counterfeit prescription drugs to Americans. Andrew Strempler, founder of the Minnedosa, Man.-based Mediplan Prescription Plus Pharmacy, agreed to strike his name from the provincial pharmacist registry at a discipline hearing last October. The fallout comes nearly four years after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first warned consumers that drugs from Strempler's Manitoba-based firm were unsafe. ("Internet Pharmacist Accused of Selling Phoney Drugs Loses Credentials," Montreal Gazette, February 24, 2010; Story here)

World News

Texas: Counterfeit Drug Seller to Face Charges


Last year the drug maker Pfizer contacted Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Houston to blow the whistle that a Chinese business was selling counterfeit lifestyle drugs on the Internet. Kum Leung Chow, owner of the counterfeit business Kingdom International Enterprises, is now scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate in Houston on felony counts of Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods and selling Misbranded Pharmaceuticals. He was indicted by a federal grand jury last week and will face a judge for arraignment on Friday. ("Jailed in Houston, Chinese Business Owner Accused of Peddling Fake [Lifestyle] Pills," The Examiner, March 1, 2010; Story here)



Lebanon: Officials Seize Factory Used to Manufacture Counterfeit Drugs


A factory producing counterfeit drugs was discovered on February 24th by the Lebanese Customs Department and large quantities of fake medications were confiscated.

The department issued a statement in which it said the factory was operating illegally, without the knowledge of the Health Ministry and contained "large amounts of counterfeit drugs of uncertain quality" which were being trafficked. ("Lebanese Authorities Seize Counterfeit-Drugs Factory," The Daily Star, February 25, 2010; Story here)



Nigeria: Officials Fight Counterfeits in the Courts and on the Streets


A court in Nigeria has convicted a drug importer, John Mbanude, of participating in the trade in counterfeit products. Nigeria's National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) brought the prosecution against Mbanude after he was found to have imported counterfeit health products which on analysis were found not to contain the claimed active ingredients. In recent months the country has adopted the use of handheld TruScan monitors to monitor medicines at the country's borders. It has also started piloting an authentication technology based on text messaging that can be carried out by consumers who purchase drugs from local pharmacies. ("Nigeria Convicts Fake Drug Importer, Closes Rogue Pharmacies," Securing Pharma, February 18, 2010; Story here)
About the Partnership for Safe Medicines
The Partnership for Safe Medicines is a group of organizations and individuals that have policies, procedures, or programs to protect consumers from counterfeit or contraband medicines. For more information, please visit