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Online Counterfeit Pills Kills Woman

A 58-year-old Quadra Island woman died from metal poisoning last year after ingesting contaminated counterfeit pills purchased online, the B.C. Coroners Service confirmed Thursday A coroner is warning the public about the danger of buying drugs over the Internet after the death of the woman.

Toxicology reports now confirm the pills appear to have killed 57-year-old Marcia Bergeron. Preliminary lab tests detected a range of trace metals in pills found in Marcia Ann Bergeron's home on Quadra Island, located between Vancouver Island and the province's mainland. She was found dead in her bed Dec. 28, 2006.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration examined the computer's hard drive and found that in April, 2006, Bergeron had purchased Zolpidem, a powerful hypnotic drug not legally available in Canada, from a site previously linked to a public alert about counterfeit drugs. Zolpidem was also one of three types of pills found in Bergeron's home containing "significant quantities" of metals. Bergeron also purchased an anti-anxiety medication that's for sale in Canada only with a doctor's prescription, said Regional Coroner Rose Stanton.

"In the days prior to her death, Bergeron complained in e-mails to a friend about suffering from nausea, diarrhea, aching joints and other ailments. She was also suffering from hair loss and vision problems and they are symptoms of poisoning," said Stanton.

Police found more than 100 pills bought by Bergeron in her home on Quadra Island. None were labeled, but were sold as anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives. Some of the pills also had traces of dangerous mineral traces that can pose a serious health risk, including uranium, strontium, arsenic and lead.

In her judgment of inquiry, coroner Kerry Clarke said further tests found "significantly high levels" of metals in Bergeron's liver, including 15 times the normal level of aluminum.

"Together, the overall load of metals in Mrs. Bergeron's liver sample would be considered highly toxic, and would have resulted in the numerous physical symptoms experienced by Mrs. Bergeron," the report said.

"We are trying to get more information from her computer to see if we can find out what she thought she was getting,'' Stanton said. The website that sold the pills has since shut down. But health experts say fake pharmacies are an ongoing scam.

The report makes no recommendations, but calls the sale of counterfeit drugs on the Internet a "complex and emerging health-care problem."

"If you order from these sites, you may get counterfeit drugs with no active ingredients, drugs with the wrong ingredients, drugs with dangerous additives, or drugs past their expiry date. Even if these drugs do not harm you directly or immediately, your condition may get worse without effective treatment," Health Canada warns on its website.

Health Canada, the RCMP, and the Food and Drug Administration continue to investigate Bergeron's death.


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