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Is It Safe to Buy Prescription Drugs Online?

Prescription DrugsAmericans 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 the internet.

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,, and

“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.