Ontario regulators Tuesday laid charges for the first time against an online drug store for allegedly filling prescriptions written by U.S. doctors for customers south of the border without registered pharmacists.
The Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP)
of Pharmacists (OCP)said Toronto-based The Canadian Drug Store Inc. has been operating in violation of the Regulated Health Professions Act, the Pharmacy Act and the Drug and Pharmacies Regulation Act. Named in the 15 charges is one of Canadian Drug Store’s directors, William Shawn, as well as drug wholesaler Rep-Pharm Inc., Dr. Stanley Gore and registered pharmacist Stephen Bederman.
The OCP said the charges, which are punishable by fines of up to $25,000 and in some cases up to six months in prison, will go before the courts on June 11.
The Canadian Drug Store’s Web site is not available in Canada but can be accessed by Internet users in the United States, a source told ITBusiness.ca. Phone calls to Shawn and the director of Rep-Pharm were not returned at press time.
“”With the Internet, people are buying drugs and providing personal information over the Internet without knowing the validity of who’s at the other end,”” said OCP communications manager Layne Verbeek. “”You need to know that there’s a pharmacist caring for you, that your prescription is validly handled, and guarantees that the product is safe.””
The case against The Canadian Drug Store reflects the growing concern of Canadian online pharmacies that provide drugs to U.S. residents. Last month the Manitoba Pharmaceutical Association urged Health Minister Dave Chomiak to act against what it called an “”unacceptable practice.”” Under the current Ontario regulations, most pharmacies only use the Internet to let customers know about their services or to renew prescriptions via e-mail messages.
The OPC requires any Ontario pharmacy operating a Web site to display its pharmacy accreditation number and the College’s Point of Care symbol. Verbeek would not reveal why the OPC began investigating The Canadian Drug Store, but said investigations sometimes stem through customer complaints. “”We are continuing to look at this; it is taking lots of our resources,”” he said.
Dipen Kalaria, director of Toronto-based Pharmacy.ca, said his firm has received complaints from customers about their experiences with other online drug stores. He said Pharmacy.ca works closely with the OCP (and displays the OCP symbol on its home page) to stay within regulations.
“”I’m glad (the OCP) actually did something,”” he said. “”They were actually making it hard on us . . . I think they probably should be doing more.””
Creating policies to govern online pharmacies is complex because of the many regulatory bodies involved. For example, Customs and Revenue Canada allows prescription to be purchased from the U.S. because it is legal to import a three-month supply for personal use. Health Canada has said it is working with pharmacists to create standards with regulators, but Verbeek said a national policy may not be quick in coming.
“”We have discussed this with other provinces,”” he said. “”We do operate independently in a large sense. This is a fairly new thing, and I think it’s going to take time for all the provinces to look at this together.””
The province-by-province regulation causes some confusion for the pharmacies.
“”There are some things the regulations don’t cover because it is such a neophyte or new industry,”” Kalaria admitted. “”Even if it is a potentially grey area because we don’t have specific legislation, if it is in the spirit of what they mandate, then you’re fine. You do need to keep close ties with them in order to do that.””
The OPC has set up a phoneline, (800)220-1921, to confirm whether a Web site is operated by a licensed Ontario pharmacy, and a public education Web site called Worthknowing.ca outlines its requirements. Verbeek said the organization would be launching a public education advertising campaign on the issue next year.
Andrew Allentuck discusses online pharmacies in the June issue of eBuiness Journal.