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Associated Press

Doctor in Florida who signed U.S. prescriptions fined by Canada

by Wire Reports
October 15, 2004

TORONTO - A Canadian doctor practicing in Florida who signed prescriptions allowing U.S. patients to receive Canadian drugs was reprimanded and fined Friday by Ontario's medical regulatory agency.

Dr. Stu Katz, who resides and practices in Boynton Beach, Fla., was fined $1,990 and given a reprimand by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Katz, 59, pleaded guilty to professional misconduct in a joint submission of fact with college lawyers for signing prescriptions without personally assessing the conditions of patients.

According to hearing documents, Katz signed a deal in 2001 with Toronto-based Canadian Drugstore Inc. which paid him $7 for each prescription he co-signed.

The process saw a U.S. doctor write a prescription and fax it with patient information to Canadian Drugstores Inc., who sent it to Katz to co-sign, who then faxed it on to an authorized "bricks and mortar" Canadian pharmacy that shipped medicines directly to patients in the United States.

The hearing did not indicate the number of prescriptions Katz signed beyond saying "many." Katz declined to be interviewed and his lawyer said he did not know the number.

According to hearing documents, Katz stopped co-signing prescriptions once he became aware that the college had approved policy against co-signing prescriptions for non-patients in Nov. 2000. That move and his guilty plea mitigated the severity of the fine, his lawyer, Michael Fraleigh, said.

Thousands of Americans are turning to the Internet or "facilitating companies" such as Canadian Drugstores Inc. to purchase Canadian drugs.

They are cheaper than their U.S. counterparts because Ottawa negotiates bulk buys with drug companies to lower costs and regulates prices. The market dictates prices in the U.S.

Most popular medications for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol can be bought in Canada at less than half the U.S. price.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opposes commercial prescription drug imports, arguing that it cannot vouch for their safety. Individuals, however, can buy as much as three months supply for personal use with a U.S. prescription while visiting Canada.

Katz's hearing was held the day after some two-dozen ill or senior Americans rode a train dubbed the Rx Express from Miami to Toronto to purchase cheaper Canadian drugs and publicize the issue of expensive U.S. medicines.

Canadian drugs are often the same as their U.S. counterparts, manufactured by Canadian subsidiaries of giant U.S. companies such as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP and Wyeth, said Louise Crandall, spokeswoman of the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association based in Ottawa.

"Some of the dosages, formulations and packaging may be different, but it's basically the same drug you'd find in the U.S.," Crandall said. "Canadian drugs are perfectly safe."

Although Katz pleaded guilty to misconduct, Fraleigh said outside the hearing that he represents three other client doctors facing disciplinary action who plan to fight the college's interpretation of misconduct.

"Some of those doctors take the view that as a matter of law, it's not professional misconduct to breach (college) policy of not attending on a patient when you co-sign a prescription," Fraleigh said.

He said it's just as easy to verify a U.S. doctor's credentials with state medical boards as it is to verify his Canadian colleague with a provincial agency.

"Ideally what I'd like to see - my personal opinion - is that it should no longer be a requirement that Canadian pharmacies need a Canadian physician to co-sign a prescription," Fraleigh said.

Katz's name was brought to the attention of the college after an investigation of Canadian Drugstores Inc. by the Ontario Pharmacists Association, Fraleigh, said.

The company had been fined $15,900 by an Ontario Court in 2003 for operating a pharmacy without proper licenses among other offenses, and paid $99,500 to the University of Toronto Pharmacy program as part of a settlement.