Feds nail Internet pharmacy operator for fake drugs

With counterfeit drugs having moved from fake erectile dysfunction medications to ADHD drugs and lifesaving cancer meds, federal authorities have got to be feeling pressure to put its resolve into action. So they have rounded up one of the early operators of a Canadian Internet pharmacy on charges tied selling counterfeit drugs for about 18 months 6 years ago.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the 38-year-old Andrew Strempler appeared in federal court in Miami on Thursday where a June 2011 indictment was unsealed accusing him and his former company RxNorth.com of selling and shipping to U.S. consumers fake and misbranded drugs between early 2005 and the summer of 2006. Strempler sold his company to a competitor in 2006, and was believed to have moved to the Caribbean after U.S. authorities accused him of selling counterfeit medications.

The arrest follows an FDA warning in May that fake versions of the ADHD drug Adderall, made by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA) and other generics companies, is showing up on Internet pharmacy sites. The short-acting form of Adderall has been in short supply since last year. But instead of Adderall's real active ingredient, at least some fakes contain painkillers, including the potentially habit-forming tramadol.

At least some of the counterfeit Avastin discovered in the U.S. in February squeezed its way in through a Canadian pharmacy company that delivers discounted prescription drugs from overseas to U.S. citizens. The owner of one Canadian Internet pharmacy acknowledged shipping at least some of the fake injectables of the Roche ($RHHBY) drug into the U.S. but said he notified authorities when he learned they were counterfeit.

The problem of counterfeits has gotten public enough that Congress and the FDA are both looking at new ways to stem the tide, including requiring tracking numbers on individual medication containers. The industry has said it can do that but has balked at how the FDA wants shippers and warehouse operators along the supply chain to track them. The recently approved FDA fee reauthorization bills from the House and Senate, which have been approved but not yet reconciled, include a tracing requirement but the details of how what will be mandated have yet to be set. The FDA is also seeking harsher penalties for those convicted in drug counterfeiting cases since now they are treated no differently than someone selling knockoffs of Gucci bags.

- read the Wall Street Journal story