Even as Internet pharmacies have become a growing threat to the health of patients and the reputations of drugmakers, one key question is what plants are their products actually coming out of? A case involving a California man who ran one provides at least a hint at an answer.
For 5 years, Ian Fischman was living in Mexico and selling hundreds of different kinds of generic drugs over a website he established. Many of them were erectile dysfunction drugs, like generic versions of Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, according to the FDA but they also included the muscle relaxer Carisoprodal, which requires a prescription to be sold in the U.S. The FDA says Fischman admitted that he arranged to have the drugs manufactured in Mexico and India and then illegally imported into the U.S.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson told FiercePharmaManufacturing that because the case remains under investigation, she couldn't discuss any of the details, like what plants in Mexico and India manufactured the drugs or whether the FDA is investigating them. Speaking generally, she said the FDA would have leverage over drug plants found to be supplying illegal Internet pharmacy sites if the plants were registered with the FDA. Otherwise nothing could be done unless the U.S. had a mutual legal assistance treaty with the country and the State Department believed it was worth pursuing. The U.S. does have treaties with India and Mexico.
Fischman, 45, ran his Internet enterprise from 2002 through 2007 and actually pleaded guilty to money laundering. He admitted putting the money he made into credit card processing accounts and then using U.S. banks to transfer it to Swiss bank accounts as well as accounts in Mexico. He was sentenced to 6 months in prison, a $3,000 fine and forfeited $100,000.
The conviction of Fischman, who now lives in Woodside, CA, came even as the FDA is trying a new tactic in fighting illegal, sometimes counterfeit drugs, that can be easily acquired over the Internet. The agency last week announced a new website of its own. It is part of a campaign designed to teach consumers about the dangers of buying drugs over the Internet and if they are going to do it, what to look for in a legitimate site, like a requirement that they have a prescription from their doctor. The need for another approach took on new urgency earlier this year when consumers were found to have bought what turned out to be counterfeit Adderall over the Internet. The fakes of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries' ($TEVA) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drug did not contain genuine active ingredients but did contain painkillers, including the potentially habit-forming tramadol.
- here's the press release