U.S. Prosecutors Target Canadian Online Pharmacies Selling Drugs to Americans

By Victoria Kim 09/30/15

Skyrocketing drug prices send Americans looking elsewhere for their medications.

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Sky-high drug prices in the United States have driven millions of Americans to look to online pharmacies for medication, many of them based in Canada.

But when a major player in the gray market industry was named in an indictment issued by U.S. prosecutors in August, the controversial practice is on trial once again.

According to the Huffington Post, the industry took off after a “young Manitoba pharmacist realized selling Nicorette to Americans at a bargain on eBay was much more lucrative than filling prescriptions in his own shop.”

The lack of regulation of drug prices is a major reason they can be so volatile, HuffPost notes.

Last year, prescription drug spending in the U.S. jumped 13% to a staggering $374 billion, according to data provided by industry research firm IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. Pricey hepatitis C drugs accounted for over $11 billion of the spending. Antipsychotic drugs like Abilify and Humira were also among the most profitable prescription drugs in 2014.

Millions of Americans import medicine from abroad without an issue. Both sides of the border generally do not aggressively target the practice, which is technically illegal in most cases.

That is until this summer, when federal prosecutors in Montana charged a major Manitoba-based online pharmacy, Canadadrugs.com, and a number of related entities and people, including an American doctor, with conspiring to allegedly smuggle mislabeled and unapproved prescription drugs into the United States.

According to court documents, federal prosecutors say they will seek to extradite the defendants from Canada if they do not comply.

Those who oppose the practice and want the government to crackdown on it include human-rights lawyer and American-Canadian health policy researcher at the University of Ottawa, Amir Attaran, who likened the industry to organized crime and said it is “brutally unethical” for politicians to allow the practice. Attaran thinks Americans should fix their problem with drug prices at home, and leave Canada out of it.

But those in the industry, like PharmacyChecker.com vice president, Gabriel Levitt, say online pharmacies like Canadadrugs.com have helped millions of Americans in need. “Sometimes the only way to afford medication is to buy it from another country,” he said.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr