Sunday, November 26, 2006

Of Spammers and Senators

Have you ever wondered where spammers get their counterfeit Viagra? Or why U.S. Senators don’t care?

If so, then you should check out The Philadelphia Inquirer’s fascinating 8-part series about a father-son duo that imported bulk drugs from India and then fulfilled orders for online pharmacies. Check it out here: http://go.philly.com/drugnet

Here’s how it worked:

  1. To avoid U.S. Customs, which targets small pill packages from overseas Web sites, Dr. Brij Bansal in India and his son, Akhil Bansal in Philadelphia, shipped millions of pills in bulk from Delhi to their Queens, N.Y., distribution center.
  2. American consumers, responding to spam or using Google to search for drugs, placed a credit-card order with a Web site. The Web site charged the consumer's credit card, then forwarded the order to the Bansals’ operations in Agra, India, and Queens.
  3. Immigrants at the Queens depot fulfilled the order, stuffing pills inside envelopes for UPS pickup. Within a day or two, UPS delivered the pills to the consumer's doorstep. Every few weeks, the Web-site operators wired payment to one of Akhil Bansal's bank accounts.
Strangely, the series has been virtually silent about whether the products were genuine, perhaps because the grand jury indictment focuses on the importation and distribution of controlled substances. (Perhaps the DEA could not indict if the Bansals were distributing fakes?) There is no evidence that the drugs were legitimate or had any active ingredients, making me question whether the Colorado woman found dead in her car (in Chapter 2 of the Philly Inky's series) had overdosed on blood-pressure medicine or just taken a dangerous counterfeit.

Nevertheless, I’d be willing to wager that manufacturing conditions at Dr. Bansal’s Indian operation did not quite meet FDA GMP standards. No mention of distribution best practices in the Queens warehouse, either.

The Return of Cosmic Irony

And in a strange bit of cosmic irony, the Associated Press put a prescription drug reimportation story on the wires Thursday. See New push to allow imported drugs expected in Congress.

Unfortunately, Senators Vitter and Nelson remain blissfully ignorant about the dangers posed by allowing consumers to source products outside of legitimate domestic channels. Some questions for them:
  • Where will "Canadian" pharmacies source products from? Hopefully not people like the Bansals, but we’ll never really know.
  • How will we stop consumers from buying from “bad” pharmacies? I bet the Bansal’s online pharmacy customers had Canadian flags on their websites.
  • Who will regulate non-U.S. pharmacies? The FDA does not regulate or control the buying practices of domestic retail pharmacies. Fans of reimportation have yet to explain how a U.S. government agency will ensure the safety of foreign sources. And keep in mind that the DEA, not the FDA, went after the Bansals.
In my opinion, politicians are abdicating their responsibilities and endangering public health by opening up diversion doorways for criminals. Good news for the criminals who might follow in the Bansal's footsteps, but bad news for you and me.

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On a happier note, Jayne Juvan, the legal brains behind Juvan's Health Law Update, just made my Monday morning by recommending this blog to her readers. Thanks, Jayne! I'll do the same and suggest that you all check out Jayne's weekly legal update.

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