Pharmacists file complaints in Man., B.C., about two Internet pharmacies
Friday, April 02, 2004
WINNIPEG (CP) - Pharmacists opposed to the Internet pharmacy industry want regulators in Manitoba and British Columbia to investigate whether two companies are illegally helping Americans buy cheap drugs from other countries.
The thorny question of trans-shipping cheap prescription drugs from other countries through Canada to uninsured Americans has been a focal point in the intensifying cross-border debate over the $1-billion US industry.
Opponents, backed by a research study by Prudential Financial completed last fall that suggests Canada is importing more drugs from countries such as Bulgaria, Argentina and Pakistan, say both Americans and Canadians are at risk of getting unsafe drugs.
"It's like a free-for-all," said Michele Fontaine, a pharmacist with the Coalition for Manitoba Pharmacy Friday.
"It's only a beginning if they're starting to import medications from foreign countries to distribute into the United States. How do we know those aren't going to hit the Canadian market?"
A spokesman for one of the two Internet pharmacies targeted by Fontaine's coalition said his company is doing nothing wrong.
Daren Jorgenson, a consultant for Winnipeg-based canadian-drugs.com, said his company recently began referring customers to a British pharmacy for some drugs to help offset supply restrictions imposed by three of the largest drug manufacturers.
Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Eli-Lilly have all ordered wholesalers not to sell their products to Internet pharmacies. The companies' products represent about 30 per cent of drug exports.
Jorgenson said the British drugs, which can be even cheaper for Americans than Canada's regulated prices, never pass through Canada. The company instead makes its money from a commission paid for the referral.
"Consumers in the U.S. and citizens in Canada shouldn't worry that there's any leakage of foreign drugs into the Canadian market," said Jorgenson, who also owns several Manitoba-based Internet pharmacies.
"Health Canada has pretty tight control on any drugs shipped into Canada."
Canadian Pharmacy Trust of Vancouver could not be reached for comment Friday. However, the company's website suggests it is also referring customers elsewhere, but not importing.
For example, when a customer wants to order a drug such as Viagra, they are linked to an Internet pharmacy in Mexico that sells the generic version known as Sildenafil Citrate.
Fontaine argues Viagra remains under patent protection in Canada and the United States, making sales of the drug in either country illegal.
The College of Pharmacists of British Columbia had not received the coalition's complaint as of Friday afternoon.
Deputy registrar Brenda Osmond said the concerns would be investigated, but there might not be much the college can do.
"I'm not aware of any specific prohibitions in the act or bylaws that we enforce that would prevent pharmacies from doing that," said Osmond.
Health Canada inspectors were looking into the matter Friday.
Spokeswoman Jirina Vlk said one of the key issues will be determining if the pharmacies are illegally "facilitating the sale of products that are not approved by Health Canada."
Meanwhile, two founding members of the Coalition came under fire Friday from the Canadian International Pharmacy Association.
The association said it recently arranged for American patients to phone pharmacies operated by Lothar Dueck and Greg Skura, both outspoken opponents of the Internet pharmacy industry, and learn how to go about buying Canadian drugs.
Executive director David MacKay said the investigation found both pharmacies were willing to help Americans, with Dueck's pharmacy agreeing to mail refills to patients for long-term use.
"We have caught them with their hands in the cookie jar, acting as complete hypocrites," MacKay said in a release.
Both Dueck and Skura insisted they have never sold mail-order drugs to Americans.
However, both men said they will sell Canadian drugs to Americans who visit a Canadian pharmacy in person, sometimes by the busload, with a prescription written by a Canadian doctor.
They said the volume of such sales does not threaten the Canadian drug supply the same way the Internet industry does