Seizures of Canadian Drug Shipments Increase
The Los Angeles Times on Saturday examined how the U.S. government appears to be "stepping up seizures" of prescription drugs ordered by U.S. residents from Canada, according to Canadian pharmacies. While ordering drugs from abroad is illegal, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and FDA officials have "generally allowed the practice," the Times reports.
Canadian pharmacies serve about two million U.S residents in an $800 million market, according to the Times. Some Canadian pharmacies have seen four- to five-fold increases in the number of seizures, while an informal survey of 30 Canadian pharmacies showed that the increase in the number of seizures started in November 2005, doubled in December 2005 and doubled again in January.
Occasionally, FDA conducts "blitzes" at international mail centers with the help of Customs officials and then analyzes the seized drugs and "publiciz[es] their findings in an effort to warn mail-order customers about the risks of getting the wrong medication, poor-quality standards or counterfeits," according to the Times. When prescription drug orders are seized, the people who ordered them usually are not cited and can get them replaced free of charge by the pharmacies.
Barney Britton, president of Calgary-based MinitDrugs, said he thinks the latest seizures are meant to coincide with the Jan. 1 launch of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. He said, "I think ... that (U.S. authorities) see an opportunity. They know that this would probably be the most vulnerable time for us."
Britton said that there were 800 seizures of his company's products in January, when a typical month brings about 15 seizures.
Federal regulators say that their policy has not changed and there has not been a crackdown.
Customs spokesperson Lynn Hollinger said, "It's not a special effort other than our normal enforcement."
Andy Troszok, president of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association and owner of Extended Care Pharmacy in Calgary, said that a sudden, unannounced policy of increased enforcement would be irresponsible. He said, "It's an issue of patient safety. We're not talking about Viagra and narcotics abuse. We are talking about people with breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes and are established on medication." Troszok added, "Who is going to be liable for these people going off medical regimens and suffering or even dying?" (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 2/11).