Canada Drugs $34m fine slammed by public health group

US prosecutors have fined a Canadian online pharmacy $34m for its involvement in the importation of falsified and unapproved medicines.

Canada Drugs – which calls itself the global leader in online prescription drug savings – has been in the sights of the US federal authorities for years, and on Friday a judge in a Montana court accepted plea agreements with Canada Drugs and its founder, Kristjan Thorkelson. was accused of illegally importing and selling $78m-worth of unapproved, misbranded and counterfeit drugs, including fake versions of Roche’s cancer medicines Altuzan and Avastin with no active ingredients, to US physicians between 2009 and 2012. Several company executives, including a US doctor, and other organizations had been named in the indictment.

The company admitted introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce, while two subsidiary companies acknowledged that they had sold counterfeit drugs. Thorkelson himself pleaded guilty to knowingly concealing a felony.

The plea deal includes a guilty plea and a $5m fine, as well as a $29m forfeit based on what was earned over the period of the operation. Thorkelson's deal includes a $250,000 fine and six months house arrest followed by four and a half years of probation.

The plea agreements come after years of legal wrangling and attempts by the federal authorities to get the company and its senior figures to appear, and have not gone down with the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) a non-profit group dedicated to preventing counterfeit and otherwise unsafe medicines getting into the hands of consumers.

“This decision is a slap on the wrist and an insult to the victims of Canada Drugs’ crimes. Stated simply, illegal importation through Canada is not safe and can kill,” commented PSM executive director Shabbir Safdar.

“Instead of allowing Canada Drugs, a multi-million-dollar company, to pay a fee for the damage that they have done, we should ensure that the punishment always fits the crime,” he added.

“This shouldn’t include keeping your pharmacy license and/or house arrest with Netflix. It is time to stand firm and recognize that the health and safety of Americans can’t be taken for granted.”

Federal prosecutors asserted that the plea bargains were appropriate to the crime, saying that they reflected “the seriousness of Thorkelson’s conduct, the need for just punishment and adequate deterrence to future criminal conduct.”

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