Americans increasingly turn to the Internet to make purchases, including
prescription and over-the-counter drugs. While there are many websites
that operate legally and safely, there are also thousands of “rogue
websites” that sell high-risk drugs that have not been checked for
safety or effectiveness.
Medications sold by online pharmacies may contain the wrong ingredients,
contain the incorrect mix of active ingredient or none at all, or include
potentially harmful substances. In addition, drugs that may be approved
in other countries or produced by unknown sources may have slight variations.
FDA Crackdown on Illicit Online Pharmacies
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced the results
of a worldwide crack down on unauthorized and unregulated online pharmacies.
The coordinated effort, known as Operation Pangea X, involved authorities
from 123 countries, including the United States. It was part of the 10th
annual International Internet Week of Action (IIWA), a global cooperative
effort led by Interpol to combat the unlawful sale and distribution of
illegal and potentially counterfeit or substandard medical products on
Overall, 25 million illicit and counterfeit medicines were seized globally.
In the United States, the FDA took action against more than 500 websites
that illegally sell potentially dangerous, unapproved versions of prescription
medicines, including opioids, antibiotics and injectable epinephrine products. The
agency also sent 13 warning letters to the operators of 401 websites. The FDA also seized nearly 100 website
domain names, such as buyhydrocodoneonline.com, canadian-pharmacy24x7.com,
“These rogue online pharmacies are often run by sophisticated criminal
networks that knowingly and unlawfully distribute illicit drugs, including
counterfeit medicines and controlled substances. Consumers go to these
websites believing that they are buying safe and effective medications,
but they are being deceived and put at risk by individuals who put financial
gains above patient safety,”
said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “The ease with which consumers can purchase opioid products online
is especially concerning to me, given the immense public health crisis
of addiction facing our country. Some of the websites sold unapproved
versions of multiple prescription opioids directly to U.S. consumers.
This easy and illegal availability of these controlled substances fuels
the misuse and abuse of opioids.”
Tips to Avoid Counterfeit Drugs
As highlighted above, the risk of purchasing from a fraudulent pharmacy
is quite high. In fact, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy
found that less than three percent of online pharmacies meet state and
federal laws. In addition, these websites work hard to look legitimate,
using sophisticated marketing efforts or fake web storefronts.
Given the proliferation of fraudulent online pharmacies, if you purchase
medications via the Internet, we recommend verifying the following signs
of a legitimate website:
- It’s located in the United States.
- It’s licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the website is
operating. A list of these boards is available at the website of the National
Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
- It has a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions.
- It requires a prescription for prescription medicines from your doctor
or another health care professional who is licensed to prescribe medicines.
- It provides contact information and allows you to talk to a person if you
have problems or questions.
Another way to check on a website is to look for the National Association
of Boards of Pharmacy’s (NABP) Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice
Sites™ Seal, also known as the VIPPS® Seal.
If you or someone you love has been seriously injured by a dangerous or
defective drug, don’t hesitate to contact
a San Diego product liability attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.