Where are all the dead Canadians? Quadra Island for starters.

  • by: |
  • 11/13/2007
People who rob banks only steal money. And they only steal it once. But when intellectual property is stolen, the rip-off is ongoing -- and the results can be deadly.

Today, one of the biggest rip-offs going threatens to cripple the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, which faces unprecedented losses from the theft of intellectual property via the mass production of copycat drugs. These drugs are manufactured in places like China, the former Soviet Union, the Philippines and other places where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no effective oversight authority — and where the safeguards designed to protect public health taken for granted in America are virtually nonexistent.

Amazingly, some lawmakers in Congress don't recognize the extent of the threat, and are pushing legislation that would make it legal to import prescription drugs from abroad.

Such a measure would lead to a deluge of copycats entering the legitimate supply chain, since it would be virtually impossible to track what's real and prevent phony medications from entering the U.S. market.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I, B&J -- Ben and Jerry's) is fond of taunting the opponents of drug importation by asking, "Where are all the dead Canadians?" Unfortunately, the most recent answer to this question is -- Quadra Insland.

Earlier this year in Canada, a woman who purchased Xanax and Ambien from what she thought was an online Canadian pharmacy died after taking her pills. It turns out the drugs were fake — and were filled with aluminum, tin and even arsenic. They had actually been purchased from a Web site in the Czech Republic and produced in Southeast Asia. But because the medication, in all likelihood, came with labeling and packaging that was indistinguishable from the real thing, there was no way for the victim to know her pills were contaminated with dangerous impurities.

Toxicology tests found three well-known drugs in her system: alprazolam -- more commonly recognized as the anti-anxiety drug Xanax; zolpidem -- which most are acquainted with as the brand-name sleeping pill Ambien; and acetaminophen. Zolpidem is not available in Canada, so it's understandable why Bergeron turned to the internet to try to get the drug.

As the prevalence of counterfeit drugs increases, the long-term viability of legitimate pharmaceutical companies is threatened.

Estimates vary, but the cost of developing a new drug ranges from a low of around $800 million to as much as $2 billion. Much of that investment goes to cover the cost of clinical trials to assure the new drugs are safe and to meet the federal government's many regulations.

Copycats, of course, don't have to worry about any of that; they just take the proverbial ball and run with it — straight to the bank. In fact, it's estimated that counterfeit drug sales will account for $75 billion globally by 2010. According to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, the counterfeit drug trade is already worth some $35 billion annually.

Anyone who doubts the effect such losses have — both in real terms today and in how the American pharmaceutical industry chooses to invest its dollars and its human talent tomorrow — must have slept through Econ 101.

Here's the rest of the story from today's edition of the Florida Sun-Sentinel:


Opening the floodgates to imported drugs of unknown origin is a terrifying proposition. It poses a real risk today, and it threatens our health and well-being tomorrow

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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