Canadian Rx: Cheap But Illegal

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Canadian pharmacies fill prescriptions for one million Americans every year -- sometimes at huge discounts. But bringing those prescription into the U.S. is illegal and it seems the federal government has suddenly found a way to crack down.

Steve and Carole Becker aren't pharmacists and their storefront in Fairmont, West Virginia is no pharmacy. But customers come here for deep discounts on prescription drugs.

The Beckers use the Internet to hook customers up to pharmacies in Canada, where drug prices can be as little as half the price.

"In the United States, they jack up the prices to what are really scandalous heights, scandalous," says Steve Becker, owner of Discount Prescription Center.

Similar shops are popular in Florida, where multitudes of seniors are searching for bargains.

People have been ordering medicine on the Internet at home for years. The new concept is these discount centers are "middlemen" for people who don't know how to use the Internet. The owners get their fees from the Canadian pharmacies.

But the FDA is now pushing states to crack down on discount drug shops like the Beckers', calling them "a threat to the public health."

The FDA says it's illegal to order drugs from Canada whether people do it at home or using discount centers. One concern is the risk of so called "counterfeit" drugs that have the wrong ingredients.

William Douglass heads West Virginia's Pharmacy Board, and he's ordered the Beckers to close shop.

"If we allow Discount Prescription Center to continue business, then we might as well shut down the pharmacies, let people go to 7-Eleven's, buy a tank of gas, a Powerball ticket, drop off a prescription and hope they get the real thing wherever they're from."

The Beckers are challenging the order to close in court. They point out U.S. pharmacies have sold plenty of counterfeit drugs, but there's never been a report of any from Canada.

"There are no dangers," says Steve Becker. "They can't cite a single instance.

"What are they talking about?"

For now, the state of Florida seems to agree. Regulators there aren't touching discount drug centers.

But the FDA and the state of West Virginia say it's time to take the Beckers and others like them offline, leaving the next order up to a judge.