Manitoba

Internet pharmacy pioneer's licence reinstated, just days after it was suspended

The College of Pharmacists of Manitoba has lifted the suspension of internet pharmacist Kris Thorkelson’s licence, just days after it imposed the sanction.

Kris Thorkelson's Manitoba licence was pulled on same day his Canada Drugs reached tentative plea deal in U.S.

American prosecutors accuse CanadaDrugs.com, its CEO Kris Thorkelson, affiliated companies and associates of selling $78 U.S. in unapproved and counterfeit cancer drugs to U.S. doctors. (CBC)

The College of Pharmacists of Manitoba has lifted the suspension of internet pharmacist Kris Thorkelson's licence, just days after it imposed the sanction.

"It is not normal College policy to speak about matters before the Complaints Committee. I can however confirm that the Committee has order[ed] the interim suspension of Kris Thorkelson to be lifted," spokesperson Rachel Carlson told CBC News in an email.

Last week, the college suspended Thorkelson's licence, saying "the Complaints Committee believes that his conduct presents or is likely to present a serious risk to the public."

Thorkelson's pharmacist licence was suspended the same day news broke that his company Canada Drugs, and related businesses, reached a tentative plea agreement in the United States.

The deal requires a guilty plea and millions of dollars in fines for allegedly selling counterfeit cancer drugs over the border. However, the charge Thorkelson pleaded guilty to is not a crime in Canadian law.

U.S. court documents filed on Dec. 12 show the agreement, which still has to be approved by a U.S. district court in Montana, would see Canada Drugs and two subsidiaries plead guilty, pay a $5 million US fine and forfeit $29 million US.

The plea agreement still needs to be accepted by the presiding judge in Montana. If the court rejects the plea agreement, the defendants will be able to withdraw their guilty pleas.

Carlson would not answer questions about why the college suspended Thorkelson's licence last week, even though it knew about the charges against him, his company and associates since 2015. She also would not comment on why the licence was suddenly reinstated Thursday.

College's actions meant to protect the public: Carlson

"I cannot speak to any ongoing investigation, or the reasons the Committee reached its decision. Consistent with the Pharmaceutical Act and Regulations, Pharmacy Managers have been advised of the lifting of the suspension," Carlson said.

Any actions taken by the college are consistent with the Pharmacy Act and Regulations and are meant to protect the public through the regulation of pharmacists and pharmacy practice in Manitoba, she added.

The college has not suspended the pharmacy licence or certificate of registration for Canada Drugs.

Carlson confirms the company does have a licenced pharmacy manager overseeing the operations. The company could not operate without one.

Health Canada is the federal regulator responsible for oversight of the safety and quality of health products in Canada, but the practice of pharmacy and the licensing of pharmacists is the responsibility of the provincial and territorial colleges.

Canada Drugs passed federal inspection in April

A Health Canada spokesperson says Thorkelson's status does not affect the federal establishment licence for Canada Drugs.

"Health Canada conducted a good manufacturing practices (GMP) inspection at the facility in April 2017 and found the site to be GMP compliant for the activity of wholesale," said Gary Holub, a spokesperson for Health Canada.

Even if Thorkelson's licence was suspended, that "does not impact the GMP compliance of the facility and no risks regarding Canadian products have been identified by Health Canada to date. If Health Canada receives additional information, we will take the necessary action to protect the health and safety of Canadians."

Information regarding the inspection can be found on Health Canada's Drug and Health Product Inspection Database.

In 2014, Health Canada suspended CanadaDrugs.com's Drug Establishment Licence, meaning the company could not sell prescription drugs to pharmacies until the federal department's concerns were addressed. That licence was reinstated on Aug. 3, 2016, following a Health Canada Good Manufacturing Practices inspection.

Meanwhile, U.S. Judge Dana Christensen held a meeting in Montana on Dec. 19 with lawyers for Thorkelson, CanadaDrugs.com, and several associated companies.

The purpose was "to address logistical matters unique to this case which include ongoing extradition proceedings in the United Kingdom and Canada." Records of that meeting are not yet available publicly.

Extradition hearings for Thorkelson and five other Canadian men are still scheduled for May 2018.

Thorkelson's Winnipeg lawyer declined comment on the reinstatement of his client's licence and on the U.S. court proceedings.

As of Dec. 21, Thorkelson and CanadaDrugs.com was still listed as a member of the Canadian Internet Pharmacy Association. 
As of Dec. 21, Thorkelson and CanadaDrugs.com was still listed as a member of the Canadian Internet Pharmacy Association. (cipa.com)

CIPA general manager Tim Smith has not yet responded to questions of whether Thorkelson and Canada Drugs are still members in good standing.

About the Author

Karen Pauls

National Reporter

Karen Pauls is an award-winning journalist who has been a national news reporter in Manitoba since 2004. She has travelled across Canada and around the world to do stories for CBC, including the 2011 Royal Wedding in London. Karen has worked in Washington and was the correspondent in Berlin, Germany, for three months in 2013, covering the selection of Pope Francis in Rome. Twitter @karenpaulscbc