Watch Out for Fake Drugs on the Web

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In the past decade or so, U.S. residents in search of cheaper prescription medications have looked across the border to Canada for the answer to their cost woes. For individuals who live close to the border, it means making a quick drive to the closest pharmacy. But for most U.S. individuals, the border is not close, so they turn to the extraordinarily more convenient way of reaching a Canadian pharmacy — through cyberspace.

 That convenience may come at a price, however, if the latest Food and Drug Administration warning is to be taken at face value. The feds are warning residents not to purchase drugs from a handful of Canadian web sites because they might be counterfeit. They allege that the following sites, supplied by Manitoba-based pharmacies, could be peddling counterfeits:

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 “Although a web site may appear reputable and similar to legitimate retail pharmacy web sites, many actually operate from outside the U.S. and provide unapproved drugs from unreliable sources,” the FDA states in a news release. The agency suggests that if you’ve purchased medications from any of these sites, not to use them.

 Meanwhile, officials are trying to track down counterfeits for a slew of commonly prescribed drugs including atorvastatin calcium and rosuvastatin (cholesterol), valsartan and losartan potassium/hydrochlorothiazide (hypertension), alendronate (osteoporosis), esomeprazole (GERD), anastrozole (breast cancer), and finasteride (baldness).

 One problem is that many sites claim to be “Canadian,” thus signifying some level of safety, while they really originate in dozens of other countries. The FDA learned that this was the case when it intercepted a shipment of drugs at three major airports last summer. Some drugs were counterfeit and some claiming to be Canadian were of dubious safety and effectiveness. Plus, it was difficult to tell where they came from.

 The problem with counterfeit drugs isn’t difficult to see: they may contain harmful ingredients, have incorrect doses, and they could endanger your life as a result.

 In Canada, meanwhile, the FDA alert was met with surprise. Drug industry lobbyists say the FDA has made “empty statements” that contain no evidence. Owners of web sites are frustrated at U.S. attempts to undermine their business with questionable allegations. American officials have been warning for years not to buy drugs from Canada. But for the millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans, Canadian prices are often the only financial solution they can take advantage of.

 Health Canada is investigating and has not issued any warnings as of yet. Keep your eye on their findings, which will either support the FDA or greatly question the agency’s warning.