Federal regulators have launched a massive crackdown on Internet pharmacies that are selling unapproved and potentially dangerous prescription medicines that could pose significant public health risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it has shut down 1,677 websites for selling counterfeit or substandard medication, or for selling drugs without appropriate safeguards. Regulators have also seized more than $41 million worth of illegal medicines and arrested 58 people, while a number of additional websites have received regulatory warnings, according to the FDA.
Several sites had interfaces and names that could easily be confused with legitimate pharmacy retailers, such as Walgreens-Store.com, which imitated the well-known drugstore chain’s website, which is actually Walgreens.com, the agency said.
The crackdown marks the largest Internet-based action of its kind, the agency said, adding that prescription medicines, including those purchased online, should only be used with a valid prescription and under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.
Although regulators have long had their eye on the online market for prescription pills, it is still disturbingly easy to find a rogue Internet pharmacy that will sell painkillers like codeine and hydrocodone without a prescription, according to this article. Research shows that 97% of Internet pharmacies are not operating legitimately and most of those do not require a prescription at all, the article says. Many of these pharmacies are based overseas, and will provide the medication even if customers are underage, the article says.
According to the article:
With an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 rogue Internet pharmacies in operation, law enforcement agencies face an uphill battle shutting down online pharmacies dispensing drugs without a prescription, especially when their operations cross many international jurisdictions.
Buying prescription medicine from fraudulent online pharmacies can be dangerous, or even deadly, according to the FDA. Such pharmacies are likely to be selling counterfeit medicines, which may be less effective or have unexpected side effects; in addition, online pharmacies may intentionally misuse the personal and financial information provided by customers, and sell this information to other illegal websites and Internet scams, the agency says.