Policy Documents

Why We Should Avoid Canadian and Internet Drugs

Conrad F. Meier –
November 1, 2003

Heartland in Print

Buffalo (New York) News
Sunday, September 21, 2003
circ. 307,505

Americans are assuming a major risk buying prescriptions from so-called drug stores over the Internet. Canada, where government mandated price controls lower drug costs, constitutes the bulk of these sales.

Still, Americans are buying record quantities of drugs via the Internet from 25 other countries, including Mexico, Israel, Austria, Ireland, Italy and China--to name a few.

The Food and Drug Administration warns that reimported drugs raise serious safety concerns since they could be counterfeit, contaminated, expired, or mislabeled. The agency won't vouch for the quality of reimported foreign drugs or those sold over the Internet, since there is no way to determine the origin of the drugs, their quality, their effectiveness, or if they endanger our health.

No one disputes the fact that the high quality prescription drugs sold in America are expensive consequences of the massive investment in research and development.

But, while other nations piggyback off our pharmaceutical innovations, we are distracted from the real issue here: The risks counterfeit medications pose to the health of Americans. Consider these grave examples:


  • Haiti, 1996: At least 88 children die after taking counterfeit antipyretic syrup.



  • Lebanon, 1998: Interpol, the international police agency, says a giant factory in the Bekaa Valley may be the world’s largest producer of counterfeit medication, including Viagra. Israeli Health Ministry’s spokesperson told the Jerusalem Post, “According to experts, 80 percent of the Viagra sold worldwide on the black market is not the real drug. What is ironic is that the black-market pills cost twice the price of Viagra gotten by prescription.”



  • Kansas City, 2002: Authorities arrest a pharmacist for diluting cancer drugs to hundreds of patients and selling the medication at full price.



  • Florida, 2003: Concerns about the safety of drugs surfaced after prosecutors announced a grand jury indicted 19 people on charges of watering down or selling fake prescription drugs to businesses selling prescription medications to consumers. The drugs are often prescribed for AIDS and cancer patients.



  • Nebraska, 2003: A counterfeit version of Pfizer’s Lipitor, the world’s top-selling cholesterol-lowering medication, was recently discovered after pharmacists and patients complained their medication tasted unusually bitter and dissolved too quickly. At least six lots of 90-count bottles containing 10 mg or 20 mg tablets have been recalled because they may contain counterfeit medication. The suspect bottles are labeled “Repackaged by: MED-PRO, INC. Lexington, NE 68850.”


Hank McKinnell, chairman and CEO of Pfizer, said, “While the evidence available suggests that the counterfeit Lipitor is in limited distribution, American consumers need absolute certainty that the pharmaceutical distribution system will protect them from counterfeit products.”


  • New Jersey, 2003: As part of the FDA’s efforts to investigate rapidly growing counterfeiting activities, its Office of Criminal Investigation uncovered the existence of contaminated Procrit, a drug used to stimulate the production of red blood cells in people with severe anemia.


The firm issued a warning by letter and posted on its Web site, www.procrit.com/counterfeit/letter.htm, because counterfeit Procrit has been found to be contaminated with harmful bacteria. FDA testing also found that some of the counterfeit product contains no active ingredient at all.

Consumers need to be concerned about buying prescription drugs across borders or over the borderless Internet with no one assuring they are safe or even that they are getting the exact drug their doctor prescribed. No foreign source of prescription drugs accepts responsibility for any harmful effects or deaths from reimported drugs.

One safe way to reduce drug costs is to contact your local pharmacist and ask about the many discount plans available from America’s pharmaceutical companies.

Another is to shop around in your community. You will find that no two drugstores charge the same and that many are willing to sell prescription drugs in larger and less expensive quantities.

Conrad F. Meier is senior fellow in health policy at The Heartland Institute.