International Panel to crack down on fake prescription drugs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A growing problem worldwide is killing and poisoning Americans at an alarming rate. Fake and poor quality medicines are hitting store shelves across the United States, and now a blue ribbon panel is pushing for stronger regulations.

They're using a local case, as well as dozens across the world, to support their fight. That local case pertains to Kansas City pharmacist Robert Courtney, who 11 years ago pleaded guilty to diluting 98,000 chemotherapy prescriptions and pocketing millions of dollars in cash.

Another big case out of Massachusetts is lending evidence in the group's fight. Forty-six people died in that state, and 700 got sick after they took prescribed steroid pills which had fungal contamination.

The tampered drug problem extends to more than 120 countries, leaders from the Institute of Medicine say, and has done incalculable damage to efforts to control tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS and other diseases.

Marjorie Vermillion of Kansas City lost her husband 17 years ago. He was battling cancer and took drugs mixed by Courtney. Vermillion believes her husband was robbed of his chance to fight the disease.

"I thought how can anyone do that? How could anyone do that to him? Or anybody else? I put Mr. Courtney in the mass murderer category," she said in a quivering tone, adding that we'll never know how many people died from Courtney's diluted drugs.  

"I think it's about time Congress and the FDA stepped up. Regarding regular medication and the pills you take: how can you take those with any confidence after something like this?" she said, adding that it would be nice to know that maybe his death meant something. "I'm sure he would be happy if it resulted in good. I would feel better," she exclaimed.

One reason fake drugs are becoming more prevalent is because there are millions of dollars to be made.

The Institute of Medicine says prescription drug fraud is twice as profitable as supplying illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin.

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