16 April 2018Americas

Online pharmacy founder gets house arrest for counterfeit drugs

The founder of a Canadian online pharmacy has been sentenced to house arrest and his company fined $34 million for importing counterfeit drugs into the US.

District Judge Dana Christensen issued the sentence at the US District Court for the District of Montana on Friday, April 13, as reported by US News and World Report.

Canada Drugs, which describes itself as the largest online Canadian pharmacy, first started selling drugs in 2001. It claims to have filled over 7 million prescriptions, providing patients with a safe alternative to expensive drugs.

However, according to the prosecutors in the case, Canada Drugs has been importing unapproved and misbranded pharmaceuticals from other countries. The company reportedly made more than $78 million through these illegal imports.

Two of the drugs were counterfeit versions of cancer treatments Avastin and Altuzan (bevacizumab) that actually had no active ingredient, the court heard.

Canada Drugs and its owner, Kris Thorkelson, came to a plea deal with prosecutors last year. Canada Drugs and two of its overseas subsidiaries pled guilty to introducing misbranded drugs into interstate trade, and the two subsidiaries also pled guilty to selling counterfeit drugs.

On Friday, Christensen ordered that the prosecutors’ recommended sentence be executed, including a total of $34 million in fines for Canada Drugs.

Thorkenson was sentenced to six months’ house arrest, a $250,000 fine, and five years’ probation, after he pled guilty to knowing about and concealing a crime.

Under the deal, Canada Drugs will stop selling all unapproved, misbranded and counterfeit drugs, and will also give up all domain names used to sell the drugs online.

In a letter to the judge, Shabbir Imber Safdar, executive director public health group the  Partnership for Safe Medicines, urged the court to impose a higher sentence as the penalties imposed are rather “a slap on the wrist and an insult to the victims of Canada Drugs’ crimes”.

The partnership is comprised of more than 70 organisations committed to the safety of prescription medicines and the protection of consumers from counterfeit or otherwise unsafe medicines.

Safdar said counterfeiting of oncology medications is a “heinous” crime. In his opinion Thorkelson should spend time in prison and the pharmacy licence of Canada Drugs should be surrendered.

The College of Pharmacists of Manitoba, Canada, suspended Thorkelson’s licence to practise pharmacy in the region in December, as reported by CBC. Canada Drugs is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

An operation by Interpol in September 2017 resulted in the seizure of more than $51 million worth of potentially dangerous counterfeit pharmaceuticals, 400 arrests worldwide, and the confiscation of 25 illicit medicines.

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