Kris Thorkelson, owner of Canada Drugs, has been sentenced to 6-months house-arrest for his part in concealing the importation by his company and its subsidiaries of counterfeit medicines in to the US.
Canada Drugs is an online pharmacy that claims to have fulfilled over 7 million prescriptions, and purports to be the biggest online pharmacy in Canada. After the pharmacy began trading in the US it was discovered to be dispensing unapproved and misbranded pharmaceuticals, including cancer treatments Altuzan and Avastin.
Thorkelson accepted a deal to spend 6 months under house arrest, 5 years' probation thereafter and pay a $250,000 fine. Canada Drugs will pay a $34m fine, and stop selling unapproved, misbranded and counterfeit drugs immediately.
The Partnership for Safe Medicines (a partnership of organisations interested in the protection of consumers from unsafe and counterfeit medicines) wrote to the judge urging a harsher sentence, including prison time for Thorkelson. They described the sentence as "an insult to the victims of Canada Drugs' crimes", and that counterfeiting oncology medicines for profit was "heinous".
Profit was certainly the name of the game: Canada Drugs are thought to have made $78m in profits purely from the unbranded and counterfeit drugs. After his house arrest ends Thorkelson may well be looking for a new career: his license to practice pharmacy in Canada has been suspended by the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba.
This is counterfeiting on an unusually corporate scale, and by an organisation in which consumers placed a high degree of trust. Whereas often consumers know they are purchasing counterfeit goods, but the price is attractive enough to overlook that fact, in this instance consumers felt no financial benefit and were unknowingly purchasing unapproved medicines.
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