||March 8, 2010 |
|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
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.
Canada: Pharmacist Loses License for Selling
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
Texas: Counterfeit Drug Seller to Face
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
Lebanon: Officials Seize Factory Used to
Manufacture Counterfeit Drugs
producing counterfeit drugs was discovered on February 24th by the Lebanese
Customs Department and large quantities of fake medications were confiscated.
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
Nigeria: Officials Fight Counterfeits in
the Courts and on the Streets
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
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 SafeMedicines.org