- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

A Canadian doctor has been suspended for two years for signing thousands of prescriptions for U.S. patients without seeing any of them, the harshest penalty yet in a crackdown against U.S. citizens trying to buy cheaper drugs there.

Dr. Daljit Singh Herar of Surrey in British Columbia admitted earlier this year that he signed thousands of prescriptions without seeing the patients face-to-face, said Dr. Doug Blackman, deputy registrar for the British Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, the provincial regulatory board that suspended Dr. Herar.

He also was charged with failing to keep proper records and lying to the college, which represents some 8,500 doctors in the province.

It is not illegal for Canadian physicians to sign prescriptions for foreign patients they have not physically treated.

But most of Canada’s 10 provinces and two territories have adopted professional standards through their regulatory boards that discourage doctors from signing prescriptions without meeting and fully examining patients, Dr. Blackman said.

“A signature on a prescription is not a commodity to be bought and sold,” he said.

The suspension, the fourth action the college has taken against a doctor for signing prescriptions, is the severest penalty to date from the British Columbia college. About 10 doctors nationwide have been disciplined for such action, according to the Canadian International Pharmacy Association.

The recent scandal and increasing number of U.S. residents and local governments trying to buy Canadian prescription drugs has spurred Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh to push Parliament to pass legislation that would restrict how Canadian doctors prescribe drugs to foreign patients and regulate Canadian pharmacies on the Internet.

The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities, an Ottawa trade group for Canada’s pharmacy-licensing bodies, also has endorsed a ban on exporting drugs, saying U.S. demand has caused a shortage and compromised the safety of Canadian drugs.

Mr. Dosanjh said in the fall that Canada’s medical and pharmacy regulators should better restrict cross-border prescription-drug traffic because of ethical concerns and the threat of U.S. demand depleting Canada’s drug supply.

Ken Polk, spokesman for Mr. Dosanjh, said the minister is receiving final recommendations, but did not have a definite time when he would announce his findings.

For U.S. consumers, a crackdown on Canadian prescription practices and Internet pharmacies could mean a halt to prescription drugs flowing into the United States from Canada.

Dave Robertson, president of a Calgary, Alberta, mail-order pharmacy company, said yesterday he was concerned Mr. Dosanjh would shut down the thriving drug-importation industry.

Mr. Robertson, president and part owner of Total Care Pharmacy Ltd., said he would move the company to another country to keep supplying its 250,000 U.S. customers with prescription drugs.

“What we are doing is not unethical. We require the same rules that a patient must follow with an American pharmacy,” Mr. Robertson said.

It is illegal for U.S. consumers to buy a prescription over the Internet, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates drug sales, does allow citizens to travel abroad to get prescriptions and bring back up to a 90-day supply.

But virtually all the drugs imported for personal use from Canada violate federal law because they are unapproved, incorrectly labeled or dispensed without a valid prescription, said Tom McGinnis, the FDA’s director for pharmacy affairs.

While U.S. consumers can use a valid prescription to buy American, FDA-approved drugs over the Internet, the agency warns that international pharmacy sites are a bigger risk for consumers, causing some to buy counterfeit or tainted drugs.

Rather than enforce border checks for drugs, the FDA has worked to educate consumers on the risk of foreign prescription drugs.

“Congress is debating this issue, and hopefully, we’ll have some closure on it this year,” Mr. McGinnis said.

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