Another Sept 11 Terrorist Act

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  • 09/13/2006

On September 11 of this year, the trial of Hamilton, Ontario pharmacist, Abadir Nasr began. He’s pleaded not guilty to a 12-count indictment alleging that he defrauded the public and pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer Products Inc. by the sale of “fake” and “grey market” drugs at his west Hamilton pharmacy.

Selling counterfeit prescription medicines is health care terrorism.

And terrorism is terrorism.

Here’s the rest of the story:

Hamilton Spectator File Photo
King West Pharmacy was where ‘fake’ Norvasc tablets were sold.

By Barbara Brown
The Hamilton Spectator

Beryl Preston was flying home to Canada from a winter holiday in Cuba when one side of her face went suddenly numb.

The retired Dofasco employee, who was taking six different medications for high blood pressure and other ailments, got the attention of a flight attendant, explaining the numbness was spreading across her face toward one eye.

The concerned stewardess offered an Aspirin, hot compress and a cup of tea and Preston, 61, gradually settled down and fell asleep.

Arriving home in Hamilton that February in 2005, she immediately made an appointment to see her doctor. The physician checked her blood pressure, which was high, and told Preston she had probably suffered a minor stroke.

All through the spring, Preston continued to feel tired and unwell. She saw her doctor weekly and underwent a battery of tests, but her blood pressure remained stubbornly high, despite her diet and medication regimen.

In mid-June of that year, the King West Pharmacy where Preston filled her prescriptions made national news when it was raided by the RCMP. Police seized a quantity of fake Norvasc, the same drug her doctor was prescribing to treat Preston’s high blood pressure.

Preston was told by her doctor to pick up a new prescription and have it filled at a different pharmacy.

Fifteen months later, Hamilton pharmacist, Abadir Nasr, 29, has pleaded not guilty to a 12-count indictment alleging that he defrauded the public and pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer Products Inc. by the sale of “fake” and “grey market” drugs at his west Hamilton pharmacy.

Assistant Crown attorney Cheryl Gzik asked Preston yesterday what her reaction was to being sold counterfeit and/or unauthorized medication.

“Well, I was dumbfounded. Shocked. Upset,” said Preston. “It was almost disbelief that it could happen.”

The Mounties turned up about 100 patients who were getting Norvasc prescriptions filled at the pharmacy. They began analysing the drugs that were in the cupboards of patients, but had no way of knowing whether any had been receiving fake or unauthorized drugs in the past.

Gzik told Ontario Court Justice Richard Jennis that about 44 patients had counterfeit Norvasc on hand. The drugs contained talc and no active medicinal ingredients.

Another 15 patients were given Norvasc manufactured by Pfizer, but specifically for Egyptian and Mexican markets and not authorized for sale in Canada. Two patients had Norvasc intended for the Turkish market.

Fifteen were dispensed authentic Norvasc properly authorized for the Canadian market, while others had a combination of fake, legitimate and unauthorized tablets.

The investigation began when a customer of the pharmacy noticed one round pill in her bottle of oblong, octagonal-shaped Norvasc tablets.

Frances Laforme had moved to Hagersville but was still driving to Hamilton to have her prescriptions filled. Laforme raised her concern about this odd round pill that was mixed in with her medication to another pharmacist who attended her church.

A few days later, she dropped in to see Michael Marini at the Dover Apothecary. Marini examined the round pill, as well as the rest of the octagonal tablets and compared them to the Pfizer Norvasc in his pharmacy.

He then Googled the code and description of the pills in Laforme’s medicine bottle. He learned from the Internet the pills were similar to Pfizer products then being manufactured for the Asian market.

Marini called Pfizer Canada’s lab in Montreal, which had him courier the samples for testing. Pfizer then sent two investigators to the Hamilton pharmacy with prescriptions to be filled. The drugs obtained by Pfizer’s undercover agents were analysed and as a result, the Mounties were called to investigate.

The pharmacy on King Street West has since been sold to owners who have no connection to the case and the stock has been replaced several times.

Jack Leon, 65, a vocation and bereavement counsellor, was appalled when the RCMP informed him that he had paid $203 for a bottle of talc pills.

Even before the news broke about the counterfeit drugs, Leon said he had noticed his Norvasc tablets — usually a brilliant white — had of late appeared “dusty” and flecked with grey.

Having not yet submitted a receipt to his drug plan, Leon called Nasr and demanded a refund. He said the pharmacist told him he could not return the money but would give him another refill.

“I didn’t go back,” said the twice-shy Leon. “Once bitten …” he added.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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