FRIDAY, Dec. 16, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- An FDA sting operation found that almost half the imported drugs intercepted from four countries were shipped to fill orders that U.S. consumers thought were placed with Canadian pharmacies, agency officials announced Friday.
And the operation showed that only 15 percent of the intercepted "Canadian" drugs actually came from Canada. The remaining 85 percent of the drugs were manufactured in 27 different countries, and many were not adequately labeled in English to help ensure safe use, the officials added.
The Food and Drug Administration carried out "Operation Bait and Switch" for several days in August at JFK Airport in New York City, Miami International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. The agency said it examined all mail parcels suspected of containing drugs sent from four countries -- Costa Rica, India, Israel, and Vanuatu. The agency had previously noticed the countries were sources of drugs apparently ordered from pharmacies "alleged to be Canadian in origin," agency officials said in a prepared statement.
Of almost 4,000 parcels examined, only 1,700 -- or about 43 percent -- had been ordered from "Canadian" Internet pharmacies and were represented as Canadian in origin, the FDA said.
"This operation suggests that drugs ordered from so-called 'Canadian' Internet sites are not drugs of known safety and efficacy," said Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, acting FDA commissioner. "These results make clear there are Internet sites that claim to be 'Canadian' that, in fact, are peddling drugs of dubious origin, safety, and efficacy. We believe that these 'bait and switch' tactics --- offering patients one thing and then giving them something else -- are misleading to patients and potentially harmful to the public health."
A growing number of Americans have been turning to Canadian-based Internet sites to save money on prescription drugs.
A survey released in September found that prescription drugs are about 24 percent cheaper when bought on Canadian Internet sites than when purchased from the online sites of major U.S. pharmacy chains.
The price difference would be even greater if prices at Canadian Internet sites were compared to walk-in U.S. pharmacies, said Dr. Mark Eisenberg, associate professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, and senior author of the survey, which appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
In the United States, soaring prescription drug costs and the growth of the Internet have fueled cross-border drug sales in recent years, with one U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services study estimating that more than 12 million prescriptions destined for American patients were filled by Canadian pharmacies in 2003 alone, for a total $700 million in sales.
While the Bush administration has firmly opposed legalizing drug imports, government leaders in various U.S. states and cities have set up programs to help cash-strapped residents buy their pharmaceuticals from Canada.
AARP has an article on assessing Canadian pharmacies on the Internet.