Arizona's pharmacy board is moving aggressively to discourage consumers from purchasing less expensive prescription drugs imported from Canada or other foreign countries, an increasingly popular option for people faced with skyrocketing medicine costs.
Several Valley outlets that arrange to have prescriptions filled in foreign countries claim the board is unfairly attacking businesses that are filling a consumer need.
The Arizona State Board of Pharmacy sent a letter Thursday to the Better Business Bureau, alerting the organization to what the board claims are untrustworthy and illegal operations that pose a public health threat.
"We are cautioning consumers not to buy their drugs from any store-fronts or Internet operations selling prescription drugs from Canada because they all operate outside of federal and state law and safety requirements,'' said Hal Wand, the board's incoming executive director, in a statement Friday.
Wand said state and federal regulators can't guarantee the drugs they get through such operations from Canada or any other foreign country are safe.
The companies charge customers for putting them in touch with pharmacies in foreign countries that sell prescription drugs at a fraction of the cost of U.S. pharmacies. The companies maintain they operate within the law. They say the businesses provide a life-saving service, and that the board's attacks are personal.
The savings for consumers can be substantial, and they are especially popular with senior citizens.
Wand, in an interview, said that aside from one possible misfilled prescription in Oregon, there have been no known incidents of harmful prescription drugs imported from foreign countries.
The crux of the issue is the definition of a pharmacy. The board claims that because these businesses sell prescription drugs, they are considered pharmacies and are therefore subject to state and federal laws and regulations pertaining to pharmacies, including obtaining a pharmacy permit and staffing a licensed pharmacist.
The import drug companies contend they are not pharmacies — simply intermediaries between U.S. patients and pharmacies in Canada, Mexico or India — and are therefore not under the jurisdiction of the board.
The letter to the Better Business Bureau of Central and Northern Arizona underscored the board's position by detailing the criminal history of Rory Dannenberg, the chief executive officer of Phoenix-based Value Prescriptions Inc.
According to a March 3 article in the Tucson Citizen, Dannenberg pleaded guilty to one count of theft on charges of shortchanging subcontractors for homes he was building in Tucson, and for creating fraudulent lien waivers to a financial institution.
Wand's letter cites a 1990 conviction and jail sentencing for burglary.
Also mentioned are two felony charges from 2000, connected with failure to disclose his earlier conviction when registering with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. Dannenberg pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to one year probation. Other charges were dropped.
Any person applying to the pharmacy board who has a felony background must appear before the board, Wand said. The worst offense — in the view of the board — is lying about one's history.
Dannenberg, 33, is appalled by what he says is a public attack based on his personal affairs.
"It's pretty pathetic that he's got to dig up old stuff from when I was a teenager," Dannenberg said.
Joel Korsunsky, a consultant with Prescription Drugs Canada, based in Scottsdale, is also offended by the matter.
"It's pretty much apparent that this is becoming a personal issue between this Rory gentlemen and Mr. Wand," Korsunsky said. "Unfortunately (Wand) is placing a blanket judgment on all these types of businesses — including ours."
Wand said his objective is to inform the public that imported prescription drug companies are not licensed by the board, and that imported drugs are not guaranteed safe by the FDA.
"All we're trying do is protect patients, to let them know what they're dealing with," Wand said. "We would be happy to see them cease and desist."
In February, Wand sent letters to Medicine International in Mesa, Canadian Rx Solutions in Scottsdale, Prescription Drugs Canada LLP in Sun City, and Value Prescription — all import prescription drug companies that advertised in Valley newspapers — warning they were not compliant with the law. The companies did little to change their activity, and the matter has been referred to the Arizona Attorney General's Office, Wand said.
Carrol Dlugosch, owner of Medicine International, said the recent pressures is an affront on the state's senior citizens, many of whom cannot afford U.S. FDA-approved medicine.
"Are they protecting the business of pharmacy or the old people in our country?" Dlugosch said.
The Better Business Bureau did not return calls Friday.