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Date Posted: 07:31:17 10/04/03 Sat
Author: Billy The Kid
Subject: Scams: Pharmacist refutes U.S. allegations

Pharmacist refutes U.S. allegations
October 10, 2003

By Eliza Barlow

Terry Fraser has absolutely no doubt that the prescription drugs he sends south to American customers are safe and authentic.

"I have no doubts, because I buy from good sources," says Fraser, owner and pharmacist at Smart Med Pharmacy in Roblin, which does nearly 90 per cent of its business with U.S. customers.

"I don't buy from anybody down on the street corner."

The United States Food and Drug Administration said this week that nearly 90 per cent of the imported mail-order drugs stopped at the borders of the U.S. in a summer crackdown were potentially dangerous and possibly counterfeit.

Fraser says it's no secret that a black market in prescription drugs is thriving in the United States, where drugs cost, on average, two to three times the price of those in Canada. The government controls drug prices here, keeping costs down.

"There's a large market where overseas pharmacies actually sell without a prescription," says Fraser, adding his customers must have a prescription before he'll send them drugs.

The FDA conducted spot inspections of mail packages from Canada, India, Thailand, the Philippines, China, Brazil, Peru and Mexico that appeared to contain drugs.

They said they found 88 per cent of the packages contained unapproved drugs.

Fraser says it is almost certainly the drugs from countries other than Canada were unapproved.

"All our medications that we sell are approved by the Health Protection Branch of Canada, which is the Canadian equivalent of the FDA," he says.

"We supply information to the customers regarding the licensing bodies and such, saying even though the drugs aren't FDA-approved, they are approved by the government here."

In the last few years, Internet pharmacies, which profit from selling Canadian prescription drugs to American customers at Canadian prices, have sprung up in Manitoba and are now a $400 million annual industry.

An estimated one million U.S. residents buy prescription drugs through Canadian online pharmacies. Most of the customers are senior citizens.

A legislative amendment that legalizes drug imports from Canada and Europe passed in the United States House of Representatives this year, though the Bush administration and 53 senators say they're opposed to it.

The amendment is opposed by such drug giants as GlaxoSmithKline, who critics say are afraid the imports will cut into their U.S. profit margin.

Glaxo and other large drug companies have already cut off supply to many Internet pharmacies in Manitoba Fraser says the question is how those pharmacies continue to get their products.

"I haven't been cut off yet by anybody," he says. "But the ones that are cut off, where are they getting their drugs from?"

Mark Rzepka, vice president of Mediplan Health, Manitoba's largest Internet pharmacy, said earlier this week that while his company has been cut off by Glaxo, none of his customers have gone without Glaxo products yet, though it's becoming difficult to get the drugs.

Rzepka could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Fraser says he's optimistic about the future of Internet pharmacies, adding the Internet side of his business is growing at a steady rate of 25 per cent a month.

"I think it's looking healthy, personally. I think it's looking good."

ebarlow@brandonsun.com

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