Public healthFDA shuts down more than 1,500 online pharmacies

Published 1 July 2013

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Interpol have shutdown 1,677 online pharmacies for selling counterfeit or substandard medication and selling drugs without the necessary safeguards.

Online pharmcies often send counterfeit medications // Source: medlatec.vn

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Interpol have shutdown 1,677 online pharmacies for selling counterfeit or substandard medication and selling drugs without the necessary safeguards.

CNN reports thatofficials with both agencies have also arrested fifty-eight people and seized more than $41 million worth of illegal medicationas part of this investigation. “It impacts consumers every day,” FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “These products can have none of the active ingredient that people need for the treatment of their disease. They can have too much or too little (of the ingredient); they can have toxic ingredients, and they can prevent patients from getting the actual medications that they badly need to treat their disease.”

Counterfeit drugs are not limited to online sales, and it is hard to determine how many deaths and serious illnesses occur as a result of fake drugs. Most drugs are not tested unless a patient has a serious reaction or dies, so most counterfeit drugs go unnoticed.

Hamburg admitted that it is difficult to be sure how widespread the online pharmacy issues goes, but maintained “We still do have the safest drug supply in the world.”

The FDA has a relationship with several private pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer which run their own investigations and give evidence they find to law enforcement agencies. The FDA and Customs agents also try to detect suspicious packaging and ingredients by using handheld scanners as well as ultraviolet and infrared radiation. The scanners are usually used at locations that handle a large volume of imports like the Los Angeles Airport.

Despite the shutdown, the problem remains. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) recently performed an analysis of more than 10,000 Web sites and found that 97 percent did not fully comply with state and federal regulations; 88 percent of these Web sites do not require a valid prescription, and almost half sold medicines which lack FDA approval.

“It’s probably a multibillion dollar industry,” Carmen Catizone, executive director of the pharmacy board group told CNN.

Catizone believes that most of these sites are not based in the United States and instead present themselves as Canadian in order to attract U.S. customers.

“The fact of the matter is very few, if any, of these sites are actually based in Canada or (are) Canadian,” Catizone said. “In fact, they are located in China, India, Pakistan, around the world.”

In an effort to prevent this, the NABP’s Web site features a list of approved online pharmacies as well as those to avoid.

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