Dangerous Canadian Drugs


"After nearly a year of sharp warnings about the dangers of prescription drugs from Canada," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, "U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials cannot produce a single U.S. consumer who was killed or injured by inferior medications from Canada." Neither can its Canadian counterpart.

There's a small number of cases—only two have become public—in which Americans were injured because Canadian pharmacies accidentally sent them the wrong drugs. But this also happens, the paper says, in "about 3 percent of the three-billion-plus retail prescriptions written annually in the United States."

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  1. What a red herring the safety issue is.

    The only question to be answered is, “Who will pay the real cost of bringing a drug to market?”

    What scares me is that the Canadians might answer, “The US consumer will, or no one will. We will have current drugs cheap even if it kills thousands of drugs before they are developed.”

    It is a poker game. I’m tempted to call their bluff, but the stakes are high.

  2. It’s only a matter of time until the Canadian government is forced to place export controls on drugs to ensure that they don’t become scarce for Canadian residents.

    More likely, they will refuse to shut down lucrative drug exporting businesses, and will instead use the ensuing shortages as their excuse for once again threatening to break patents and manufacture the drugs as generics unless the drug companies knuckle under.

    Importing drugs from Canada has nothing to do with a free market in drugs, because the Canadian market is not a free market. Drug prices in Canada are negotiated by a government acting as a monopsonist, backed up with the threat of expropriation via breaking patents.

  3. Re: illegibility of Rx?s- Latin ain?t got nothing to do with it. I?ve seen nurses stand around debating what a script more than once. One of the most common ways they have of dealing with MDs penmanship is to turn the page upside down to try to decipher it. Scary, huh? Often the Latin abbreviations are the only thing they can read.

    Also, why is free trade so important until it means the consumer might get a better deal?

  4. What I don’t get is, why does the *FDA* care? I can see the Pharma companies complaining and making up scare stories, but the FDA should be more independent.

  5. Justin – the FDA regulates the manufacturing and chain of custody for drugs in the US. Reimported drugs are outside of this regulated stream of commerce.

    FWIW, the FDA recalls all wholesale shipments of drugs that it thinks might be reimported. These drugs are basically gray market drugs, and because they come from overseas there is no good way to confirm who made them or what kinds of quality controls might be in place.

  6. The safety of imported drugs is a complete red herring. They are a threat to established money and power, and so are opposed by the establishment. However, I find it hard to believe that “about 3 percent of the three-billion-plus retail prescriptions written annually in the United States” are filled with the wrong drugs.

  7. I saw a report on one of the local TV stations in (?) Carlsbad NM. An “investigative reporter” went over the border to MX and bought Vicodin and one other prescription drug OTC then had them tested. The Vicodin was as described, but the lab couldn’t identify the other drug.

    Of course, that’s not Canada, and he should have gone to several places with a Tawny Kitaen-style list o’ goodies, but just something to keep in mind.

  8. Jesse’s post is misleading regarding the “3 percent”.

    Three precent of the filled prescriptions are in error. Almost all of these cases are in miscounting, generally providing either 99 or 101 pills when the script called for 100.

    Sometimes the script is filled with the wrong strength medication (30 mg when 60 mg was called for). This is the reason pharmacists carry malpractice insurance.

    The thing to remember is most of the errors are in filling the prescription rather than in manufacturing the drug. How often do you hear of drug recalls?

    My brother is a pharmacist and I asked him about counting errors a couple weeks ago. He said in EVERY case where he is reported miscounting it is in regard to controlled subtances and the customer always claims he was shorted. He said in 25 plus years of pharmacy he has never had one complaint of being shorted in any drugs other than controlled subtances. Funny how he can count the antibiotics correctly every time, but those Tylenol 3’s are a bitch.

    His favorite pharmacy anecdote:

    Pharmacist: So, will you be paying for this cash or charge?
    Customer: PAY??

    This happened YEARS ago. But indicative of why few people care that the new medicare prescription drug “benefit” is a waste of money.

    The US Governemnt: An uninformed citizen is our best customer.

  9. How often do you hear of drug recalls?

    As I noted above, they are actually not uncommon at all. However, there is no purpose to publicizing them, because the chain of custody of drugs is so well documented that all the recalled drugs can be tracked down directly. I can think of three drug recalls in the last year that I know of, and none of them were publicized.

    BTW, I think the drug safety issue is a red herring as well. I am not aware that any safety issues have materialized yet with reimports, and I do some work in the pharma business.

  10. There is one case not covered so far where drug safety might be a legitimate issue. In the case of drug seekers, the impaired ability that pharmacists have to check doctors’ bonafides internationally or to track who gets what pills means that a greater number than usual of addicts will work around the law and get illicit pills.

    The FDA, rightly, doesn’t want to advertise this gaping loophole in the drug seeker regs so they use the vague but accurate drug safety issue.

  11. Listening to PhRMA’s sock puppets holding forth, you’d think we were talking about importing unlabeled elixers from Hondorus.

  12. All of this legal maneuvering about the “safety” of drugs from Canada is irrelevant.

    The drug manufacturers’ response to price controls in Canada has been to place quotas on the quantity of drugs that they will ship there. Demand from the US is really ramping up due to all the publicity. It’s only a matter of time until the Canadian government is forced to place export controls on drugs to ensure that they don’t become scarce for Canadian residents.

  13. This is outrageous protectionism at the expense of consumers! Canadian drugs are of the same quality as U.S. drugs and probably manufactured by identical processes.

    More people are injured by a Doctor’s poor penmanship (have you ever been able to read a perscription?) than drugs coming from Canada!

  14. My favorite part of the reimportation debate last June was when a congressman defended high drug prices by saying “that’s how our free market system works.” I guess that makes Dwayne Andreas the patron saint of free markets.

  15. Prescriptions have been written in abbreviated Latin for, oh, a long time now. Maybe some doctors don’t use it anymore. But don’t automatically assume you can’t read the scrip because of the handwriting, lol.

  16. “that’s how our free market system works.”

    That’s the kind of crap that gives capitalism a bad name. Most people I talk to believe that government/business collusion are inherent to capitalism. Pisses me off.

  17. The Pharmas are lobbying precisely so they don’t have to decide how much to ship to whom. (imagine the bad press they would get if Canada’s supply of X drug is all but exhausted on account of reimportation and they refuse to sell them more) The FDA is no doubt concerned about the lock they have on approving drugs. Imagine if you will a few years from now, reimportation is the norm and the Pharmas take a big hit as a result. How could they best fix their bottom line? They can’t charge more, US costumers will simply buy more Price controlled Canuck drugs. What is there single biggest expenditure, it isn’t actually the R&D, its the phase II and III trials. If they can market a substance in Canada or the EU without going through the FDA and there already exists a steady flow of drugs, which is easy and totally uncontrolled, what do you think will happen? Not to say they will want to do that, but if they cannot recoup their investment in the US they can’t continue R&D without radical changes.

    Hey, maybe this is a blessing in disguise!

  18. Big money fighting consumers who can’t afford to be milked. That’s all it is.

  19. i couldnt agree more. and i have to wonder, why do the manufacturers have such a problem with increased sales? their MSRP is the same…

  20. Headline: “Pfizer Cuts Supplies to 2 Canadian Dealers”

    About time!!! Current inventory will begin running out in about one month. If Canadians and other countries would drop their price controls, the costs here in the US would drop dramatically. Why should we support them!!!

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