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111 nations target illegal online pharmacies in coordinated operation

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Interpol’s Operation Pangea VII conducted during the 7th annual International Internet Week of Action (May 13-20) was marked by joint actions between law enforcement, customs, and regulatory authorities from 111 countries, including the FDA, the US Department of Homeland Security, National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, Interpol, the World Customs Organization, the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime, Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers, the pharmaceutical industry, and national health to identify the makers and distributors of illegal drug products and medical devices sold through the Internet and remove these products from the supply chain. This year, coordinated efforts at mail facilities resulted in the detention or seizure of 19,618 packages containing medicines purportedly from Australia, the UK, New Zealand and Canada. However, they actually contained unapproved or suspected counterfeit drugs from other countries, such as India, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Mexico, Laos, Malaysia, as well as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

In addition the FDA and US Customs and Border Protection worked together to inspected packages at the mail facilities in New York, Chicago and LA, where they detained or seized 583 packages containing drugs such as insulin, estrogen, bimatoprost, human chorionic gonadotropin, tramadol, tadalafil and sildenafil citrate were on their way from foreign suppliers to American consumers. The FDA also notified Internet service providers, domain name registrars and related organizations that 1,975 websites were selling products in violation of United States law. The investigations also found that that many American consumers who order medicines from online sources are under the belief that they are receiving the same medicine as the FDA approved version, but are instead getting medicines that are “often unapproved or counterfeit and from countries with substandard manufacturing practices or regulatory controls.”

“When consumers buy prescription drugs from outside the legitimate supply chain, they cannot know if the medicines they receive are counterfeit or even if they contain the right active ingredient in the proper dosages,” stated Douglas Stearn, director of the FDA‘s Office of Enforcement and Import Operations. “Consumers have little or no legal recourse if they experience a reaction to the unregulated medication or if they receive no therapeutic benefit at all. In addition to health risks, these pharmacies pose other risks to consumers, including credit card fraud, identity theft or computer viruses.”

In fact, numerous illegal online pharmacies “use slick website templates and empty guarantees to convince American consumers that the inexpensive drugs they sell are the exact same prescription drugs that are dispensed in the U.S.,” added Philip J. Walsky, acting director of the FDA‘s Office of Criminal Investigations. “The FDA will continue to leverage our resources and strengthen our national and international partnerships to shed light on these Internet-based fraudulent activities which target consumers.”

For information on how to identify an illegal pharmacy website and advice on how to find a safe online pharmacy check out the FDA's BeSafeRx: Know Your Online Pharmacy website.

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