May 22, 2014
2 min read

Illegal online pharmacies targeted by FDA, international agencies

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In what the FDA is describing as a “globally coordinated action,” the agency seized packages of illegal prescriptions at postal facilities and took action to shut down websites that illegally sell pharmaceuticals.

The move to curb the illegal sale of drugs from online sources was conducted in conjunction with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Together, the agencies seized 19,618 packages containing medications alleged to be from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, but actually contained unapproved or suspected counterfeit drugs from China, India, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore and Taiwan, as well as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Among the drugs found were insulin, estrogen, human chorionic gonadotropin, tramadol, tadalafil, bimatoprost and sildenafil citrate. Internet service providers, domain name registrars and other organizations were notified about 1,975 websites that sold prescriptions illegally.

“When consumers buy prescription drugs from outside the legitimate supply chain, they cannot know if the medicines they receive are counterfeit or even if they contain the right active ingredient in the proper dosages,” Douglas Stearn, director of the FDA’s Office of Enforcement and Import Operations, said in a press release. “Consumers have little or no legal recourse if they experience a reaction to the unregulated medication or if they receive no therapeutic benefit at all. In addition to health risks, these pharmacies pose other risks to consumers, including credit card fraud, identity theft or computer viruses,” Stearn said.

“Many illegal online pharmacies use slick website templates and empty guarantees to convince US consumers that the inexpensive drugs they sell are the exact same prescription drugs that are dispensed in the US,” Philip J. Walsky, acting director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, said in the same release.

The effort, dubbed Operation Pangea VII, took place as part of Interpol’s 7th annual International Internet Week of Action from May 13 to 20. The week is a collaborative effort between Interpol, the FDA, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, the World Customs Organization, the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime, Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers, the pharmaceutical industry and other agencies from 111 participating countries.

Walsky said the efforts will continue.

“The FDA will continue to leverage our resources and strengthen our national and international partnerships to shed light on these Internet-based fraudulent activities which target consumers.”