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Fake Canadian Drug Sites Proliferating

Almost 80 percent of sites purporting to offer Canadian pharmacy prescription drug sales are registered in other countries, according to data released today by Cyveillance. The online risk management firm conducted the study for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Using a master list of 60 million domain names, Cyveillance discovered approximately 11,000 sites that were designed to appear as Canadian pharmacy sites. Of those sites, a little more than a thousand actually sold prescription drugs.

Of those sites, only 214 had registration data containing a Canadian address or exhibited any data suggesting they were hosted by a Canadian Internet service provider.

"These people are hiding behind the Internet," Tom McGinnis, director of pharmacy affairs at the FDA, said. "If you ran a Google search, they wouldn't show up. They're spamming people and the only way to order the drugs is through the spam."

McGinnis added, "This is the first time we're noticing they [sites] may not actually be Canadian pharmacies. They look like Canadian sites, but they're not."

Todd Bransford, vice president of marketing for Cyveillance, said the FDA ordered the study last year. The types of drugs sold were not a part of the study. The findings were forwarded to the FDA to support congressional testimony.

"A whole of them were based in the United States," Bransford said. "One company had 384 sites implying they were Canadian drug firms." He declined to name the company.

Other countries found to be hosting pseudo Canadian sites included Barbados, Mexico, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, Australia and Vietnam.

The issue of online drug sales is a politically sensitive one in Washington, as the high cost of prescriptions forces consumers to the illegal sites. According to the government, the illegal Web drug stores bypass not only regulatory safeguards, but also the safeguards that are inherent in a legitimate doctor-patient relationship.

"It's certainly a buyer beware situation," McGinnis said. "You don't know the strength quality or purity standards. Our position is if they buy [drugs] are available in the U.S., you should be buying in the U.S.

While legitimate U.S. Internet pharmacies provide safe access to prescription drugs, foreign Internet pharmacies operate outside of U.S. law and are not subject to FDA standards.

McGinnis said generic drugs cost no more in the U.S. than in other countries. Name-brand drugs, however, are often carried at a lower price on the foreign sites.

State laws currently maintain primary regulatory control over medical practices and pharmacies. To receive a prescription, most states require a patient to be examined by a licensed health care practitioner who determines the appropriate treatment and issues a prescription for a drug approved by the FDA.

Many of the rogue pharmaceutical sites, however, do not require a prescription to dispense drugs otherwise requiring a prescription. In other cases, they require consumers to fill out a medical questionnaire that may or may not be reviewed by a licensed doctor.

"It's probably a horrible idea to order drugs online if you don't know who you're dealing with," said Bransford. "You don't know what you're going to get."