FDA Cracks Down on Illegal Online Pharmacies

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it has completed a campaign against more than 9,600 websites that illegally sell potentially dangerous, unapproved prescription medicines to American consumers.

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The regulatory agency said the enforcement actions included issuing regulatory warnings, and the seizures of both offending websites and $41,104,386 worth of illegal medicines worldwide.

In a statement, the FDA said the action occurred as part of the 6th annual International Internet Week of Action (IIWA), a global cooperative effort to combat the online sale and distribution of potentially counterfeit and illegal medical products.

As part of this year’s international effort, called Operation Pangea VI, the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado, seized and shut down 1,677 illegal pharmacy websites. The campaign ran from June 18 to June 25.

The FDA said many of these websites appeared to be operating as a part of an organized criminal network that falsely claimed its websites were “Canadian Pharmacies.” The websites allegedly displayed fake licenses and certifications to convince U.S. consumers to purchase drugs advertised as “brand name” and “FDA approved.”

However, the drugs received as part of Operation Pangea were not from Canada, and were neither brand name nor FDA approved, according to the FDA. The websites also used certain major U.S. pharmacy retailer names, including CVS Caremark (NYSE:CVS) and Walgreen (NYSE:WAG), to trick U.S. consumers into believing an affiliation existed with these retailers.

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