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Internet pharmacies

Internet drugs blamed in BC woman’s death

VICTORIA – Pills bought on the Internet appear to have killed Marcia Bergeron last December, according to regional coroner Rose Stanton.

She said the 57-year-old woman, who lived in the Campbell River area of Vancouver Island, bought a sedative not legally sold in Canada and which has been linked to overdose deaths in other countries.

The woman also bought an anti-anxiety medication that’s sold in Canada only with a doctor’s prescription, Stanton said. The coroners service and RCMP are still investigating the exact cause of the woman’s death, but preliminary results suggest poisoning.

According to the coroners service, more than 100 pills were found in Bergeron’s home – some loose, some in bags, none of them labelled.

One was zolpidem, a powerful sedative that is available with a prescription in the U.S. but not available for sale in Canada. Another was the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam – known by the brand-name Xanax – a prescription drug available in Canada.

Investigators haven’t found a prescription for either drug at Bergeron’s home. A third drug was acetaminophen, a common non-prescription painkiller.

“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. She said some of the pills also contained heavy metals that can pose a serious health risk.

The coroners service says the pills were bought through a health-related website belonging to a group of companies that change websites and Internet addresses every three or four days.

“These fake sites look very realistic,” Stanton said. “They would fool a lot of people. And they mention the names of companies that don’t exist.”

The coroners service is warning people about the dangers of buying medications online from an unknown company. It said if anyone is uncertain about a drug they’ve bought over the Internet they should take it in its original packaging to a pharmacy for proper disposal.

According to press reports in British Columbia, Bergeron got very sick in the weeks leading up to her death but never mentioned ordering drugs online.

Her friend Glenda Billerbeck said, “She complained that she felt like she had flu symptoms and diarrhea.”

Billerbeck visited Marcia Bergeron at her Quadra Island home in the days before her death. “She said, ‘My legs are kind of swollen up,’ and she was tired.” Billerbeck said Bergeron suffered from several health problems, including a bad hip and severe allergies.

Billerbeck, who lives in Iowa, spent Christmas with Bergeron, arriving on Dec. 22 and leaving Dec. 26, one day before she died. Despite Bergeron’s ill health, she was still in good spirits. “We talked about next year, so we were planning what days I could come,” said Billerbeck.

She said Bergeron first moved to Quadra Island from her home in Reinbeck, Iowa, seven years ago after meeting her Canadian husband on the Internet. The couple separated three years later, but Bergeron stayed in Canada.

“She loved the ocean and the trees. She loved Canada,” said Billerbeck.

She said Bergeron spent a lot of time on her computer. “She was on the Internet a lot because she had a lot of friends she talked to through the Internet,” said Billerbeck.

She doesn’t know why her friend ordered drugs online, but said cost likely wasn’t a factor. Bergeron inherited, along with her sister, a farm in Iowa that gave her a steady income. “They always had money off the estate,” said Billerbeck. “She never really had to work.”