FDA, Interpol Crack Down on Illegal Online Pharmacies

In the crackdown, nearly 100 website domains were seized by the FDA and partnered law enforcement.

Partnered with multiple international law enforcement agencies, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken action against upwards of 500 websites illegally selling unapproved knockoff medicines.

The unapproved medicines included opioids, antibiotics, and injectable epinephrine products, according to an FDA statement.

“These rogue online pharmacies are often run by sophisticated criminal networks that knowingly and unlawfully distribute illicit drugs, including counterfeit medicines and controlled substances. 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,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb (pictured), MD, said in the statement.

The Administration echoed the words of its commissioner, warning that customers who purchase these products online from illegal pharmacies may be facing health risks due to the risk of buying counterfeit, contaminated, and expired medications.

The massive crackdown was part of a wider, global operation targeting illegal drugs being sold online and distributed through the postal system, right to consumers. The FDA reportedly issued warning letters to many of these websites’ operators in addition to working with internet registrars to confiscate domains.

The effort was part of Operation Pangea X, part of the 10th annual International Internet Week of Action (IIWA), led by Interpol. Pangea X sought to identify makers and distributors of illegal prescription drugs to forward the efforts to remove them from their supply chains.

Additionally, Gottlieb stated his concern that these illicit pharmacies may be aiding the impending opioid crisis faced by the United States.

“Some of the websites sold unapproved versions of multiple prescription opioids directly to U.S. consumers. This easy and illegal availability of these controlled substances fuels the misuse and abuse of opioids,” Gottlieb continued. “As part of a broader effort to target this illegal activity, in addition to the operation that we are announcing today, the FDA is also working on a comprehensive Enforcement Operations Work Plan that’s focused on combating the sale of foreign unapproved drugs to U.S. consumers and aimed at increasing the scope of our operations related to these risks.”

Nearly 100 website domains were seized by the FDA, including buyhydrocodoneonline.com, canadian-pharmacy24x7.com and buyklonopin.com, while 13 warning letters were issued to 401 website operators. Almost 500 parcels were detained during screenings for illicit prescription drugs from International Mail Facilities (IMFs) in Chicago, Miami, and New York.

“The FDA is proud to partner with our international counterparts on this important operation,” Commissioner Gottlieb said. “However, our work to fight illegal online pharmacies is not over. In addition to the multifaceted work plan we will soon unveil, we’ve recently tripled the staff we have in the IMFs to improve our ability to inspect packages that are suspected of containing illegal drugs, and we have doubled the number of cybercrime and port of entry special agents for the Office of Criminal Investigations. These efforts are part of a much broader work plan that the FDA is developing aimed at beefing up our efforts to interdict illegal drugs.”

The FDA is providing consumers the information required to identify these illegal pharmacies at BeSafeRx: Know Your Online Pharmacy.

Report suspected criminal activity to the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation.