Why did CanadaDrugs close? Are there safe online pharmacies Americans can order from?

Written by Gabriel Levitt, MA | Posted April 24, 2018 | Updated March 17, 2022

CanadaDrugs.com was accredited in the PharmacyChecker Verification Program from 2005 until March 2018. In February 2018, CanadaDrugs.com withdrew from our program. CanadaDrugs.com closed its website and stopped selling medications to Americans beginning June 13th, 2018. 

This was an unfortunate outcome of a case that did not involve medication sales through the CanadaDrugs.com website, which had been safely selling medication at low cost to Americans and internationally for many years. The case involved a wholesale business affiliate of CanadaDrugs and its owner. Sadly, in 2011, two counterfeit batches of the cancer medication, Avastin, entered the supply chain of that wholesale business that were sold to medical offices in the United States. Avastin was never sold on the CanadaDrugs.com website.

In a plea bargain signed on April 13th, 2018 with the U.S. Department of Justice, the owners of CanadaDrugs.com forfeit the website www.CanadaDrugs.com and other websites they operate to the U.S. government. The FDA recognized that there was no urgency to shutting down CanadaDrugs.com, giving them 90 days to wind down their international retail pharmacy business. To that effect, CanadaDrugs were informing their patients and website visitors that they were closing on July 13th, 2018. 

March 2022 Update

In March 2022, an appeals court in Manitoba shed new light on this case. The judge reinstated the pharmacist license of the founder and CEO of CanadaDrugs, Kris Thorkelson, overturning the decision of the Council of the Manitoba College of Pharmacists. As I see it, this case is more evidence of how groups funded by the pharmaceutical industry grossly mischaracterized the defendants to try and make importation of lower-cost drugs seem dangerous. 

According to the decision, Mr. Thorkelson’s license was wrongly revoked in 2019, based on the Council’s position, that Thorkelson was “convicted of an offence relevant to his suitability to practice pharmacy.” Instead, the judge held Mr. Thorkelson did nothing to justify taking away his pharmacist license. For clarity: as a matter of public safety and health, there was no reason to take away Mr. Thorkelson’s pharmacist license. The judge wrote:

The College argued that [Thorkelson] was motivated by profit at the expense of his ethical obligations. I see no basis to say this.”

Other important takeaways here from the evidence presented to the court:

  • CanadaDrugs.com never sold a counterfeit drug.
  • CanadaDrugs.con never pled guilty to the sale of a counterfeit drug.
  • Defendants in this case quickly and responsibly notified the necessary regulatory authorities that a counterfeit drug was discovered in their supply chain. 
  • The UK’s counterpart to the FDA, the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) investigated the defendant in this case who was responsible for the counterfeit drug distribution into the U.S. and found that they “acted quickly and appropriately as soon as it  learned there was a problem.”
  • MHRA “ took possession of the Avastin” and told the defendant that it would notify the FDA. 
  • Kris Thorkelson and CanadaDrugs.com believed the FDA was notified. 

For more analysis on this, see Manitoba Judge’s Opinion Reveals Different Side of the CanadaDrugs Case

In the Winnipeg Free Press, see https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/dose-of-leniency-576270202.html

For more historical information on CanadaDrugs.com, please read our blog post

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This case does not apply to all Canadian online pharmacies, just CanadaDrugs.com and other websites it may operate. For future medication orders, you can consult our list of current PharmacyChecker accredited Canadian and other international online pharmacies. Also, look up your medication by name to compare prices across trustworthy international online pharmacies.

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I have always had good success with CDC for many years, now however, I have an order overdue and doubt it will show up. Would i have any recourse in your opinion?
The problem was that the owners of CanadaDrugs, once they knew that the wholesale part of their business had introduced fake cancer drugs into the US, did not raise the alarm. If they were reputable and concerned about the patients who would be affected by this they would have instantly acted to halt any further distribution to patients. They denied they had anything to do with it once US authorities started to suspect them. What kinds of things happened in their online personal prescription supply business that have never been brought to light? It doesn't make sense for you to attempt to minimize what happened the way you do - the business that committed the crimes and the business that you support, i.e. online distribution of personal supplies of prescription drugs to Americans were owned by the same group of disreputable individuals.
Hi David - To address all of your comments -

I'm sorry you feel that way. We don't condone the sale of counterfeit drugs in any manner. Quite the contrary, we're vehemently opposed to them.

Nonetheless, from out verification efforts, as I see it: a very well-run, safe, international online pharmacy was forced by the U.S. government to stop helping Americans afford prescription drugs because the pharmaceutical industry wanted that outcome. The FDA is right to investigate and pursue enforcement against counterfeit drug sales, including when it did so with the wholesale divisions of CanadaDrugs. As it happens, as I understand it, they were never accused of selling counterfeit drugs once they knew there was a breach in the supply chain.

Keep in mind that the FDA recognized at the time that there was no urgency to shutting down the website, CanadaDrugs.com, and gave them 90 days to wind down their international retail pharmacy business so patients could continue to get their medicines.
The US attorney's office District of Montana issued a press release April 13 2018 that said:

"In two instances, Canada Drugs, through its subsidiary River East Supplies, distributed counterfeit cancer drugs Avastin and Altuzan (the Turkish version of the drug) in the United States. Testing of vials of the drugs recovered from these shipments revealed that both contained no active ingredient. In 2012, Thorkelson and others at Canada Drugs became aware that they had shipped counterfeit Avastin and Altuzan to medical clinics in the United States. Thorkelson denied “selling or offering Avastin,” even while the company attempted to recall the suspect drugs. At no time did Thorkelson notify the FDA or other authorities in the United States that counterfeit cancer drugs containing no active ingredient had been shipped to providers in the United States."
According to a Manitoba appeals court judge, CanadaDrugs believed the FDA was properly notified. The court stated:

"The evidence before me is that no one at River East knew or had reason to believe that the Avastin was defective. River East’s management acted quickly and appropriately as soon as it learned there was a problem. While the appellant did not take steps to notify MHRA [FDA’s counterpart in the UK], he was told River East and CareMed [FDA’s counterpart in the Netherlands] agreed that CareMed would do so. That CareMed followed through is clear from subsequent events. It seems that the appellant was also told that MHRA would notify the FDA of the situation. Clearly it did so. Thus, while he failed in a legal obligation to notify an authority that the Avastin was defective, it seems fair to say that he believed that both the U.K. and American authorities were notified, and in fact they both were notified.”
So you actually aren't accepting comments, is that it?

Excerpts from the indictment against CANADA DRUGS, et.al.

"66. After CANADA DRUGS discovered that there had been a significant breach in its supply chain, and possible counterfeit cancer drugs were sitting in its warehouses in the United States, CANADA DRUGS moved to conceal the problem….
73. After CANADA DRUGS discovered that there had been a serious breach of its supply chain and it might have distributed counterfeit Avastin to physicians in the United States, CANADA DRUGS made no attempt to notify FDA or any other authorities….
106. After the FDA posted a notice on its website about the counterfeit Avastin that was distributed in the United States, persons known and unknown to the grand jury, including NAKAMURA and TRUEMAN, attempted to conceal the smuggling by immediately coordinating the shipment of all remaining unapproved and misbranded drugs from Company B to RIVER EAST in the United Kingdom."

Who cares if people who discovered they were responsible for shipping fake drugs into the US distribution system where they would be used by cancer patients failed to warn anyone because they were too busy trying to cover things up so no one would ever be able to pin anything on them? The OTHER drug business they were running, i.e. online sales of drugs direct to US patients, must have been squeaky clean. Right? It's SO obvious.
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