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This article was published 25/2/2010 (4230 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
An Internet pharmacist who recently lost his credentials to practise in Manitoba is distributing generic drugs from an online pharmaceutical business based on an island off the coast of Venezuela.
The Free Press confirmed online pharmacy pioneer Andrew Strempler's business, PharmaCheck, started operating in a free-trade zone in Curacao in August 2006 -- the same month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first warned consumers prescription drugs from Strempler's Manitoba-based online pharmacy, RxNorth, were unsafe.
Strempler did not respond to interview requests from the Free Press, and an employee at his Curacao office said he is currently in Panama. His company's website says PharmaCheck Canada has expanded beyond the North American market and now ships generic pharmaceutical products to Europe, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
The news that Strempler is still in business outside Manitoba comes as a shock to local regulators, who recently wrapped up a three-year probe into allegations his Minnedosa-based Internet pharmacy sold counterfeit prescription drugs to Americans. Strempler agreed to strike his name from the provincial pharmacist registry and pay $7,500 as part of a deal to stay the charges against him at a discipline hearing last October. Experts say it's the most severe penalty that can be handed to a pharmacist and prevents Strempler from renewing his licence to practise in Manitoba.
The measure has no force in other jurisdictions, and Manitoba Pharmaceutical Association registrar Ronald Guse said he's frustrated by their limited capacity to investigate complaints against online businesses. He said the association needs help from both provincial and federal governments on how to proceed when a serious allegation is brought against cross-border pharmacies.
"This isn't like ordering a book or a record -- you're talking about drugs people need to maintain or sustain their life," Guse said.
The Manitoba Pharmaceutical Association alleged Strempler dispensed drugs that were not approved by Health Canada out of a location in the Bahamas and sold them to Americans labelled as if they originated in Canada. The body accused Strempler's firm of selling prescription drugs that were close to, or past, their expiry date.
Strempler was one of the country's first Internet pharmacy entrepreneurs, capitalizing on the cross-border sale of cheap drugs at age 25 when he sold Nicorette gum on eBay. The idea prompted Strempler, his wife Catherine and pharmacy friends Mark and Chantelle Rzepka to start Mediplan in 2001, a business once estimated to be worth $1 billion.
Strempler bought out his partners in 2005 and eventually sold the business in late 2006 after the FDA warnings surfaced.
At the time, he publicly denied any wrongdoing and said the allegations were "completely false."
Internet pharmacy entrepreneur Daren Jorgenson said he sold three of his cross-border pharmacies in 2006 after he couldn't compete with other businesses shipping what he calls "substandard product" at drastically reduced prices. He said regulators like the FDA need to "clean up" what's going on before he gets back in the business.
"We're just buying our drugs from a legitimate source and these guys are buying it (from) all over the world," Jorgenson said.
Manitoba Internet Pharmacists Association president Troy Harwood-Jones said Internet pharmacies based in Manitoba are safe and only ship medicines that originate in Canada. He called the regulator's cry for a crackdown a "smear campaign" and said there are no documented reports of harm from any consumer who purchased prescription drugs from a Manitoba-based online pharmacy.
"It is a reality that there are dangers on the Internet," Harwood-Jones said. "That doesn't mean the industry is unsafe."