Prescription Drugs Purchased From Canadian Online Pharmacies Pose Fewer Risks, GAO Report Finds
Prescription drugs purchased from Canadian online pharmacies "pose fewer risks" than drugs obtained from online pharmacies in other foreign countries and, in some instances, U.S.-based online pharmacies, according to a General Accounting Office report released Thursday in conjunction with a hearing on the matter before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Sherman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/17). From January to June, GAO made 68 purchases of prescription drugs from online pharmacies, the Washington Post reports (Flaherty, Washington Post, 6/17). The pharmacies were based in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Spain, Thailand and seven other countries (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/17). The report found that 24 of 29 U.S. online pharmacies and 21 online pharmacies based outside of Canada or the United States sold medications without doctors' prescriptions; all 18 Canadian sites included in the report required prescriptions (George, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/17). Prescription drugs from U.S. and Canadian pharmacies typically came with proper labeling information and included patient instructions and warnings, according to the report. The "biggest problem" with drugs shipped from Canada is that they were not FDA approved because of production or labeling concerns, the AP/Sun reports (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/17). As with previous reports, GAO found instances of online pharmacies that relied "solely on online questionnaires to screen buyers," and pharmacies that sent medications that were not "properly labeled or stored and arrived without patient pamphlets," the Post reports (Washington Post, 6/17). However, the report noted that the "samples from U.S. and Canadian pharmacies exhibited few problems otherwise," and the drugs had comparable chemical compositions to FDA-approved medicines, according to the AP/Sun.
FDA Acting Commissioner Lester Crawford wrote in the report, "Whether a foreign product contains the same active ingredient is no guarantee that it is identical to the FDA-approved product" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/17). The two-day hearing will be chaired by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who recently dropped his opposition to reimportation and co-sponsored a bill that would include a licensing requirement for online pharmacies and a user fee for businesses importing prescription drugs. "What we really need is a national strategy for separating out drugs that can heal, drugs that can kill and determining what our best options are for regulating Internet pharmacies," Coleman said. The subcommittee will hear testimony on Thursday from opponents of reimportation, including family members of people who have died from prescription drugs acquired online (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/17). NBC's "Nightly News" on Wednesday reported on the GAO report. The segment includes comments from Coleman and Francine Haight, whose son died from an overdose of painkillers purchased online and who will be testifying before the subcommittee (Reid, "Nightly News," NBC, 6/16). The complete transcript and video of the segment in Windows Media are available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.