Yesterday I wrote a post
on the perspective that age bestows, my point being that the longer one lives, the greater the potential ability to critically evaluate everything that happens. Despite having seen many things during my life, however, I have to confess that didn't prevent me from feeling deep outrage, disgust, and perhaps even mild shock at what I read on the front page of this morning's Toronto Star
. It is a story that, in the old days, would have led to howls of outrage from the people, demands for real accountability, and ministerial resignation.
Yet I fear none of that will happen.
The story, resulting from a Star investigation (one of the many reasons I subscribe to the paper), reveals that Health Canada has been purposely hiding from the public the fact that many of the drugs Canadians take are unfit for consumption. These drugs, manufactured both in Canada and abroad, have been rejected for sale by the U.S. FDA because of doctored data, contaminants found at the manufacturing sites and in the drugs, and side effects.
And the worst appears to be that Health Canada has essentially been colluding with the Canadian pharmaceutical companies who have been selling these medicines with knowledge that their products were defective
Here are but a few of the shocking facts, based on the inspection reports, not of Health Canada, but of the U.S.FDA, which also inspects Canadian plants that sell to Americans:
- Generic drug maker Taro Pharmaceuticals of Brampton kept drugs on the market despite company tests showing batches of the medications deteriorated before the expiry date listed on the label.
- In June, at a facility in Bangalore, India, that makes drugs destined for North America, Apotex employees did not report undesirable test results and doctored bacterial growth test records.
- Cangene Corp., a Winnipeg drug manufacturer, failed to tell authorities of blood clots, fever and other side-effects associated with their products.
Equally disturbing is that the Star investigation was made easier by two facts: the transparency of information thanks to an extensive FDA database
accessible to the public, and freedom of information requests that are handled with dispatch instead of the delays and obfuscations common under the Harper regime.
Conditions at some Canadian plants are shockingly deficient. The U.S. regulator has posted online dozens of warning letters to Canadian companies, many of which detail egregious conditions in drug manufacturing facilities.
:A 2010 letter to Apotex revealed details of earlier inspections of its Toronto facilities where U.S. inspectors found the company distributed antihistamine and diabetes tablets made with contaminated ingredients. Apotex recalled more than 600 batches of drugs made at its GTA facilities from Canadian and U.S. markets.
In contrast, Health Canada does not tell the public the number of times it has inspected individual facilities at Apotex or other major drug companies.
Other FDA inspection reports are equally chilling:
- At the Quebec plant of Macco Organiques, after charred, black particles spoiled a batch of a pharmaceutical ingredient, the firm shipped it to the customer anyway. Inspectors saw dead insects and live ones buzzing around production material and areas of the factory covered in “dust and debris.”
- Staff at Taro Pharmaceuticals in Brampton did not respond to six Star requests to talk about the FDA inspections that found the firm kept drugs on the market despite company tests showing batches of the medications failed a quality test or deteriorated before the expiry date listed on the label.
Another contrast:Under U.S. freedom of information legislation, the Star quickly obtained additional records for more than 30 of these FDA inspections north of the border. Health Canada said it will take months to decide whether it will release similar information.
In several cases, the Canadian regulator said it will first need to consult with the inspected Canadian drug companies before publicly disclosing the information
, a practice that strongly suggests commercial considerations take priority over citizens' health and well-being.
It also appears that Health Canada inspects only about 10 foreign sites annually that make products destined for Canadian pharmacies.
The FDA, on the other hand, inspected nearly 150 international facilities last year alone.
There is much more to be read in this disturbing report, including doctored data within the offending labs. I hope you will take the time to read it in its entirety.
Rona Ambrose, our current Health Minister, should, of course, resign. Of course, that won't happen, because under the current regime, any admission of error is seen as a weakness. It is therefore up to the Canadian public to send this government, which has progressively raised secrecy to an entirely new level, a strong message in 2015 by resoundingly defeating it at the polls.