FDA Cracks Down On Illegal Online Pharmacies
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced that it has cracked down on close to 500 online pharmacies that were selling prescription painkillers and other dangerous drugs illegally.
These actions were organized by Interpol, and a part of-of the worldwide Operation Pangea, a yearly global event, now in its 10th year, which focused on curbing sales and distribution of illicit drugs. Since its inception in 2008, Pangea has confiscated 25 million illicit substances and shut down nearly 3,600 “rogue pharmacy” websites.
In 2017 alone, the operation nabbed 100 domains for online pharmacies.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stated the following in a press release about the most recent operation, named “Pangea X”:
“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.
The operation involved 123 countries and resulted in more than 400 arrests and $51 million worth of medications confiscated.
In the U.S, FDA inspectors screened suspicious packages at several international mail facilities in Chicago, Miami, and New York, and confiscated nearly 500 parcels as a result.
Drugs seized included those such as painkillers, dietary supplements, erectile dysfunction medications, anti-psychotics, antibiotics, and others.
Although the effort undeniably delivered a swift punch to the online illicit drug market, still, more than 2.5 million people globally remain addicted to drugs and alcohol. Moreover, as long as there is demand, someone will pop up to be a supplier.
Gottlieb also stated that “the ease with which consumers can purchase opioid products online is especially concerning to me” considering the “immense public health crisis of addiction facing our country.”
Internet Pharmacy Warning Letters
The FDA has also sent cease-and-desist letters to an additional 400 websites. As of this writing, however, the crackdown doesn’t appear to be tremendously effective, as many of the websites targeted by the FDA remain up and accessible.
For example, a letter sent to the American Pharmacy Group in Maryland warned the company about selling unapproved hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen in 10/500mg doses. In 2011, the FDA had requested that drug makers limit the strength of acetaminophen to 325mg in prescription painkillers to reduce the risk of liver damage.
You can view the entire list of pharmacies here who were sent warning letters for actions such as “offering for sale unapproved prescription drugs of unknown origin, safety, and effectiveness” and “offering prescription drugs without a prescription.”
From the letter:
“There are currently no approved drug applications… for the hydrocodone products that contain 500 mg of acetaminophen offered for sale on your websites.
Offering hydrocodone products for sale on your websites is particularly concerning given the potential for abuse and dependency, especially amid the growing epidemic of opioid abuse in the U.S.”
Additional FDA Efforts
In the same press release, the FDA announced another plan, dubbed the “Enforcement Operations Work Plan” that was developed to battle the sale of illicit drugs to customers in the United States. The FDA has already increased staffing at international mail centers to intercept packages containing illicit prescription drugs.
“In addition to health risks, illegal online pharmacies can pose other risks to consumers, including credit card fraud, identity theft, and computer viruses.”
The FDA has also implemented an awareness campaign, known as “BeSafeRx: Know Your Online Pharmacy”, an effort that helps customers avoid black market online pharmacies.
The site explains the dangers of purchasing drugs from fraudulent pharmacies, and how to identify those sites.
Site visitors are also privy to an interactive map to confirm that a particular pharmacy is indeed, licensed within the United States.
From the site:
“Fake online pharmacies can manipulate their websites to appear legitimate, so checking the pharmacy’s license through your state board of pharmacy (or equivalent state agency) is an important step to know whether you are using a safe and legal online pharmacy.”
But unfortunately, as long as there is demand, no amount of campaigns and efforts to battle illicit drug sales will eliminate the problem. But for some, a simple understanding the risks of purchasing drugs from fraudulent venders may enough to make would-be consumers think twice.
Gottlieb described online pharmacies are being “often run by sophisticated criminal networks that knowingly and unlawfully distribute illicit drugs, including counterfeit medicines and controlled substances” and that customers patronize these sites believe that the medications they are buying are “safe and effective.”
About The Epidemic
Recent estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that more than 64,000 thousand people lost their lives in 2016 to a drug overdose. This is the highest number so far on record and eclipses the number of Americans who died during the entire Vietnam War.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology