Popular online pharmacy shuts down after selling counterfeit cancer drugs

A popular online pharmacy stopped operations Thursday after federal investigators tracked counterfeit cancer drugs and other unapproved pharmaceuticals to the site.

Purchasing personal medication online from overseas is illegal and comes with possible health risks. But some local patients said they're willing to turn to the internet to save money.

Sherree Rothstein has asthma and severe allergies, so she depends on her inhaler to breathe.

As longtime small business owners of a clothing store in Crystal Lake, Sheree and her husband, Michael Rothstein, pay for their own health insurance.

"My wife's health insurance cost $900 a month with a huge deductible," Michael said.

That means they also pay more for medications, like Sheree's inhalant, Symbicort.

"The cost in the U.S. was very prohibitive," Sheree said. "Each month it would have cost me close to $400."

Sheree turned to the popular website canadadrugs.com, which cost her one-third less.

She was surprised to learn that CanadaDrugs shut down its website Friday as part of a plea deal after a federal investigation found the company imported counterfeit cancer drugs and unapproved pharmaceuticals into the United States.

CanadaDrugs pleaded guilty to federal charges of distributing two cancer drugs that investigators said had no active ingredient. The company was fined $34 million.

It's illegal for an individual to buy drugs from Canada, but if the person has a prescription and buys in personal-use quantities, the FDA will not enforce the law. Some people take the risk of ending up with counterfeit or non-FDA approved drugs.

"When people have to choose between food and medicine or have a poor quality of life, that's just not right," Michael said.

Astra Zeneca, the manufacturer of Symbicort, told the ITeam in a statement,

"AstraZeneca supports policies and programs that help patients obtain their prescription medicines safely. As you continue to research your piece, you may also find this resource from FDA regarding ensuring the safety of online pharmacies of interest.

Our goal is to provide affordable access to AstraZeneca products, including SYMBICORT. For eligible commercially insured patients we offer a SYMBICORT savings offer. More information can be found here.

We also offer the AZ&Me Prescription Savings Program, one of the longest standing patient assistance programs in industry, designed to help qualifying people without prescription drug coverage and those in Medicare Part D who are still having trouble affording their AstraZeneca medications. More information on that program can be found here or by calling 1-800-AZandMe."

CanadaDrugs says it will ship the last orders to patients Friday.

If you buy medications online, the pharmacy should require a doctor's prescription. For your order to be legal, the pharmacy must have a U.S. address and phone number.

Patients can also try to reduce the costs of medications by asking their pharmacist or the manufacturer about savings programs.

For more information, visit the FDA's website: https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/BuyingMedicinesOvertheInternet/BeSafeRxKnowYourOnlinePharmacy/default.htm.
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