Counterfeit prescription drugs are far more common than most consumers realize. Despite the dangers posed by online pharmacies and drug stores, it’s even more surprising that businesses, like the Winnipeg-based website canadadrugs.com, are able to stay in business for so long.
That is, until federal authorities shut them down — which is exactly what happened to canadadrugs.com last year, according to The Guardian. Although the business is based in Canada, U.S. prosecutors in Montana filed a lawsuit against the website for smuggling, money laundering, and conspiracy to sell counterfeit medications to American doctors.
The Montana grand jury returned an indictment last year, VICE News has reported, but details of the case began emerging earlier this month.
According to the charges, the website sold as much as $78 million worth of counterfeit drugs to American doctors — including fake drugs for cancer treatments — over a period of three years.
A fair number of medications and herbal supplements sold online are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the estimated 10% of counterfeit drugs sold through online pharmacies are incredibly dangerous (other estimates place that number higher, around 35%).
Strict regulations in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry have cut down on the amount of prescription drugs that are sold illegally to American consumers, in large part due to the advanced retail pharmacy software that tracks patient prescription information and consumption. Nevertheless, when it comes to online pharmacies, the industry hasn’t been able to extend the same amount of control over drug sales.
Canadadrugs.com reportedly sold “cheap foreign versions of lifesaving drugs,” according to VICE News, many of which were not FDA approved and were “mislabeled or improperly stored, or imported under falsified customs declarations.”
The cancer-treating Avastin, for example, is often used along with chemotherapy and is very effective — but it’s also very expensive. One 400 mL vial of Avastin can cost as much as $2,400, according to VICE. But instead of sending Avastin to doctors in the U.S., canadadrugs.com actually sent a Turkish drug called Genentech, which hasn’t been approved by the FDA.
There are currently no claims made by individuals that the website’s drugs directly caused fatal harm to patients, but given the severity of medical conditions that the drugs were used to treat, it seems likely that the counterfeit drugs might be linked to patient fatalities as more details emerge.