Bad Medicine

Miss Venezuela Stefania Fernandez, behind, hugs Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza, also of Venezuela, after being wining the Miss Universe beauty pageant in Nassau, Bahamas, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton) AP

Every month, more and more of Delores Corpenning's fixed income goes to pay for medicine.

"You work, what, all of your adult life -- and for what? - to buy medicine," Corpenning said.

So when she heard about a man who said he could save her hundreds of dollars a month by filling her prescriptions in Canada, it sounded like a great deal. But he turned out to be a con man who took her money and took off, reports CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

For years, thousands of Americans have crossed the Canadian border to buy drugs for up to two-thirds less than they pay at home. And now a growing number of scam artists are getting in line and online to take advantage of a multi-million dollar business.

"U.S. consumers really don't know when they look at a Web site, if it's a legitimate, bona fide pharmacy they're dealing with," said Barbara Wells of the National Association of Pharmaceutical Regulatory Authorities.

Wells represents Canadian pharmacy regulators, who point out that many of the Web sites use official-looking logos that don't mean anything.

And there's no guarantee you'll get what you pay for. One Web site has already been shut down. But Bob Whitelaw of the Canadian Better Business Bureau worries there are many more out there.

"Visualize the problem this way: Right now it's a mile wide and about 40 feet deep," Whitelaw said. "Unless corrective action is taken, in a year's time it's a mile wide and a mile deep."

The problem is compounded by a conflicted U.S. policy. On one hand, the government acknowledges it's unlikely to prosecute consumers, so people keep buying. On the other, it makes clear the practice is illegal, so if you get ripped off, you have no recourse.

"Our regulatory system protects the Canadian public," said Barbara Wells. "Our licensing policies were not designed to look after the American public."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it's working with Canadian officials to try and crack down, but admits there's little it can do to protect American citizens from foreign scams.

"You're not only risking your money, but your health, and perhaps your life," said William K. Hubbard of the FDA.

Delores Chorpenning has no hope of getting her money back. She ended up paying a higher price for medicine that she says is already expensive enough.
  • Dan Collins

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