Fake meds draw concerns from online pharmacy users

A popular online pharmacy has been ordered shut down by the DOJ.  Canada Drugs was selling counterfeit meds.  

A local woman just learned she won't be able to fill her prescription through canadadrugs.com anymore.

Her first concern was what it will cost through a local pharmacy, but now she's wondering what's in her pill bottle.

Fake meds, unapproved and mislabeled drugs all shipped into the U.S.  Canada Drugs and some of the companies controlled by the online pharmacy plead guilty in this case. A case that started with a drug called Avastin.

Used to treat late-stage cancer, the FDA discovered some patients were getting a drug with no active ingredient.  

Lorrie Dawson started ordering one of her prescription drugs from the company several years ago.  

When she called this month to re order Dawson was told Canada Drugs is closing July 13th.  "They said but you can order a year's worth of meds, between now and when we close," Dawson told us.

Dawson says the online pharmacy wouldn't tell her why over the phone so she went online. 

"I was shocked.  The issue was in fact importation of counterfeit drugs," she said. 

And Dawson said that made her question her meds, "I was thinking 'oh jeez if I've been paying for placebos or something worse these past years.'"

According to the indictment in this case, Canada Drugs and some of its subsidiaries misled customers about the safety of the drugs it sold saying the medicine was manufactured in 'FDA-approved' facilities overseas.  But the indictment states the online pharmacy really "...did not know where the drugs it purchased were being manufactured, or who had been handling the drugs .."

Shabbir Imber Safdar calls it unsafe on many levels.  He's the Executive Director for The Partnership for Safe Medicines, a group of non-profits focused on prescription drug safety.  

He warned never buy online unless it's a U.S. licensed pharmacy.  Imber Safdar pointed out if you import drugs, there's no guarantee you're getting the real thing.  

"The counterfeit cancer medicine actually came from England, but that was its last stop. It had three stops before that including Turkey and possibly also Syria," he said.

According to Imber Safdar Canada Drugs is able to keep prices low because it buys off the black market.  

"If you're selling something that has no medicine in it you can undercut everybody's price," he said.  

Imber Safdar also told us consumers don't fully understand the scope of this problem.

The list of counterfeit drugs sold in the U.S. is long.  Many are meds used to treat common issues, like arthritis and asthma.  The FDA warnings about this issue touch almost every state, including Wisconsin.

According to Safe Medicines, as many as 65 different kinds of counterfeit prescription drugs have been sold in our state.

Dawson explained she was always told where her medicine was from, "the product they're shipping to me is from England, and that's where I've gotten my product before."  

When asked if she trusts what's in her pill bottle she told us, "as much as one can trust not knowing all the facts."

She has not experienced any side effects and plans to keep taking her Canada Drugs supply until it runs out.

Right now Dawson pays around $31 a month for her prescription through the online pharmacy. That will jump to $112 at a local pharmacy.  

The Partnership for Safe Medicines told us there are other ways to save money like using a search engine, called "Good RX" to find the lowest drug prices at pharmacies in your area.  

It does warn if you buy online only use a website that ends in -dot- pharmacy, which means it has a U.S. license. 

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