Illegal Online Pharmacy Crackdown Launched by FDA, Law Enforcement

More than $41 million worth of illegal medications were seized last week, in a global initiative to crackdown on illegal online pharmacies selling potentially dangerous and counterfeit prescription medications to consumers in the United States.

The effort was a part of the 6th annual International Internet Week of Action (IIWA), a joint effort conducted by the FDA, law enforcement agencies, customs and other regulatory authorities from 99 different countries.

Operation Pangea VI, the largest internet based seizure program of its kind, seized and shut down 1,677 websites that illegally sell unapproved prescription medications, arrested 58 people and took action on nearly 10,000 other websites involved in illegal drug resale.

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“Illegal online pharmacies put American consumers’ health at risk by selling potentially dangerous products,” said John Roth, director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. “This is an ongoing battle in the United States and abroad, and the FDA will continue its criminal law enforcement and regulatory efforts.”

The operation ran from June 18 through June 25, focusing on makers and distributors of illegal drug products. The program hoped to remove potentially dangerous medications from the supply chain. Many of these websites were a part of larger organized crime networks, which falsely portrayed their business as Canadian pharmacies.

The websites posted fake licenses and certifications to convince U.S. consumers the drugs were safe and legal. Some websites used major pharmacy retailer names such as, Walgreens-store.com, to trick customers into thinking the website was affiliated with major national chains.

The companies sold products posing as brand name medications, such as the type 2 diabetes drug Avanadaryl, generic Celebrex or other antidepressants, sleep aids and hormone replacement therapies, to name a few. The drugs were not brand name, legitimate or FDA approved medications. Many pose a significant health risk to consumers because they do not contain the correct active ingredients, correct dosage amounts or contain other toxic ingredients which can harm consumers.

Many of these websites also present other risks to consumers. In visiting the sites, consumers may become subject to identity theft, credit card fraud or computer viruses.

Recently the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy performed an independent analysis of 10,000 online pharmacy websites. The analysis revealed 97 percent of the websites did not comply with state or federal regulations. Nearly 90 percent did not require a valid prescription and more than half of the websites sold prescription medications that were not FDA approved.

Operation Pangea VI is part of an ongoing effort by the FDA to educate the public about fake drug pharmacies operating over the internet. The initiative launched last year, BeSafeRx, was created to educate consumers about the dangers of buying prescription drugs from online pharmacies and to provide information on how to avoid counterfeit online pharmacies.

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