Few Online 'Canadian Pharmacies' Based in Canada, FDA Says

By Brian Krebs
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 14, 2005; 6:23 AM

Most Web sites that purport to sell quality, discounted prescription drugs from online stores in Canada appear to be controlled or owned by individuals or companies located outside Canada, including many in the United States, according to a study commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration.

The study examined some 11,000 Internet pharmacies, finding that only about a thousand of those Web sites actually sold prescription drugs and that fewer than 25 percent were registered to or hosted by companies or individuals in Canada.

Rather, the report concluded that most of the sites referred visitors to 1,009 online stores, 86 percent of which are currently hosted by companies located in the United States. Nearly 70 percent of the sites also were registered to U.S. citizens, and more than half of those sites are registered to a single Web design firm based in New England, which the publicly released version of the study did not identify.

Many of the apparently fraudulent sites referenced in the study were not reachable through traditional Internet search methods, said Tom McGinnis, director of pharmacy affairs for the FDA. Instead, most could only be found by clicking on links in junk "spam" e-mails, he said.

"We want consumers to be aware that when they order online from these sites ... for the most part no one is overseeing that -- not the state boards of pharmacy, not the FDA -- and that they're the ones responsible for taking a look at the quality of these sites and their offerings," McGinnis said.

The study is the latest salvo in the ongoing debate over whether Americans should be able to have less expensive prescription drugs shipped from outside the country. A number of states and localities have recently taken steps to help government employees and residents buy imported drugs in defiance of federal law. Although the FDA contends that importing prescription medicines is illegal, the agency has never gone to court to block a state or local government from referring people to Canadian Internet pharmacies, calling such efforts an inefficient use of regulatory resources.

The pharmaceutical industry has strongly opposed efforts in Congress and in several states to make it easier to import prescription drugs from other countries, citing concerns over possible counterfeiting or tampering as well as the impact on revenue streams that support research and development.

The new report was commissioned by the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations and conducted by Arlington, Va.-based Cyveillance, a company whose clients include three of the nation's top four pharmaceutical manufacturers. The version released to the public spanned less than two pages and did not include information on any of the 214 pharmacy sites identified as connected to a legitimate business or individual in Canada. FDA's McGinnis said the agency is withholding that information until its investigation is complete.

"I'd hate to give consumers a false sense that these 214 sites are all legitimate if they aren't," McGinnis said.

According to the FDA, two-thirds of the online pharmacies identified in the study explicitly stated on their Web sites that potential customers did not need a prescription to purchase medicines that otherwise would require a doctor's written permission and a prior, legitimate doctor-patient relationship for U.S. residents.

Andy Troszok, president of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, said the study was likely to instill fear and uncertainty into the minds of Americans who are considering buying drugs from Canadian online pharmacies.

Fewer than 300 legitimate pharmacies in Canada ship prescription drugs into the United States, and all of those pharmacies require customers to have a prescription before ordering, Troszok said.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company