Despite safety concerns voiced by opponents of prescription drug imports, congressional investigators said they encountered few problems with medicines purchased from Canadian Web sites. In some instances, Canadian online pharmacies had stricter standards than those in the United States, according to the report released Thursday by the General Accounting Office that examined the use of Internet pharmacies in several countries, including U.S-based Webs sites.
The report notes that narcotics were easily purchased over the Internet from U.S. pharmacies with no prescription, the government investigators testified Thursday at a senate hearing on drug reimportation. Investigators said they purchased the painkiller hydrocodone from eight U.S. Web sites. In no instances were GAO employees who posed as patients asked to see a doctor or provide a prescription for the narcotics, said Robert Kramer, a senior investigator with the GAO. All of the Canadian Web sites visited by the investigators required a physician-written prescription for any drugs that were to be shipped to U.S. consumers.
Canadian pharmacies appeared to be more reputable than Internet pharmacies in other countries, including those in Mexico, Spain, Thailand, and several other countries. In contrast to orders filled in Canada, some of the drugs received from other foreign pharmacies were counterfeit and many came with no instructions or warnings, said the report by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress. Others arrived in damaged or unconventional packaging. Prescriptions filled in Canada and the United States came with labels from the dispensing pharmacy and generally included patient instructions and warnings, the report said. The biggest problem investigators noted was that drugs shipped from Canada did not have FDA approval for use in the United States for reasons such as production in unapproved plants or carrying different labels. But the medicines had a comparable chemical composition to approved pharmaceuticals, the report said.
Brand-name drugs, including those to fight HIV and cancer, can be purchased from Canadian pharmacies at a fraction of the price charged in the United States because of Canadian price controls. Some medications are 50% to 80% cheaper in Canada than in the United States. The Senate hearing addressed proposals by lawmakers to pass legislation allowing the large-scale reimportation of drugs from Canada and other Western countries to help cut costs for American consumers. The Bush administration and the Food and Drug Administration oppose drug reimportation, claiming the safety and efficacy of reimported medications cannot be guaranteed. (AP with additional reporting from The Advocate)