Monday, December 19, 2005

Oh, those Canadian pharmacies!

Funny how it all seems to come together in my inbox these days. Today's batch included a whole raft of messages about enforcement actions by the FDA and links to a couple of very interesting press items. One (an AP news story) focused on counterfeit Tamiflu now entering the country and the other (an FDA press release) focused on "Operation Bait and Switch," which checked out the origins of medications ordered from several online "Canadian pharmacies." In the latter action, the FDA discovered that:
However, only 15 percent of the “Canadian” drugs in the parcels examined actually originated in Canada. The remaining 85 percent were manufactured in 27 different countries. In addition to having been falsely promoted as being of Canadian origin, many of these drugs were not adequately labeled in English to help assure safe and effective use.

Even worse,
Thirty two of the pharmaceuticals sampled, representing three distinct drug products, have been determined to be counterfeit.

Reading these messages reminded me of the bill that Representative Hochberg introduced regarding Canadian pharmacies in this past legislative session. As you may recall, the substance of the bill was added as an amendment to the reauthorization of the Texas Board of Pharmacy, and the substance was basically that that Board would help certify real "brick and mortar" Canadian pharmacies as being real "brick and mortar" pharmacies that can safely ship safe medications to Texans.

All of this made me curious about how things were coming along on this matter, so I popped over to the Board of Pharmacy web site and found a link to information about this very subject right on the front page. It would seem that the FDA is also unhappy with Texas for "promoting" the reimportation of medications through this safety measure and says that the Texas law is in conflict with federal law. The Board has already written its rules but is holding them in abeyance while it waits for an Attorney General's opinion about whether any part of the Texas law is still salvageable (or whether Austin trumps Washington).

The ins and out of this whole reimportation thing can get a little complicated, but the safety issues are very clear, as the two press releases from the FDA show.
  1. Sometimes people lie on the Internet. If you choose to order any medications through an online pharmacy, no matter whether it is Canadian or otherwise, it would be wise to take some steps to determine whether the pharmacy is legitimate.
  2. Sometimes drugs that are ordered from Canada are actually shipped from a third country. Look at the package before you take the medication to make sure that it comes from a safe source. If the package is labelled in Cyrillic, there's a pretty good clue that you're not getting what you ordered.
  3. Sometimes counterfeit "drugs" are substituted for the medications that you order. Again, look at the package, look at the actual medication.
It sorta makes you wish that there were somewhere to go to find out which online pharmacies were really safe, doesn't it? For now, you're on your own. "Caveat emptor," as they say in East Texas.

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