Many are tempted to purchase drugs on the Internet because they can be obtained at a much lower cost and without a prescription. However, the old adage “you get what you pay for” applies. Often, the drugs appear to be identical to the real thing; however, they could be useless or harmful.
On March 22, a British regulatory organization, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), announced that law enforcement agents conducted a 10-day (May 11 through May 21) worldwide crackdown on counterfeit drugs. During the Interpol-coordinated operation, 237 individuals were arrested. Counterfeit and unlicensed medicines worth $31.4 million were seized. In addition, the operation also involved 10,603 websites; the sites were either shuttered or suspended through having their domain name or payment facilities removed.
Among the fake drugs seized was a substantial number of diet erectile dysfunction medications, anabolic steroids, and diazepam (Valium). The MHRA noted that the drugs seized during the raids were being held in “appalling conditions,” such as a filthy old building with broken windows. The drugs were not uncommonly found lying on the floor in bin bags. The MHRA Head of Enforcement Alastair Jeffrey noted, “Criminals involved in the illegal supply of medicines through the Internet aren't interested in your health; they are interested in your money.” The MHRA noted that India was the source of 72% of the illicit medicines seized in Britain, and China accounted for 11%.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security seized nearly $83 million worth of counterfeit and pirated drugs and personal care items. According to a review by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), only about 3% of more than 10,000 Internet outlets selling prescription drugs appear to be legitimate. The review found that some of these sites are not U.S. state-licensed pharmacies, and some of the medicines sold are not FDA-approved.
Drugs treating a range of conditions, from cancer to anxiety to lifestyle issues, have been subject to counterfeiting. Some contain dangerous substances such as rat poison, wallboard, sheetrock, or road paint, and others may not include the correct dosage of medicine. In addition, they may be manufactured in substandard, even filthy facilities. The website may claim to be a “Canadian pharmacy.” However, location can actually be anywhere on the globe.
Many pharmaceutical companies are working closely with the FDA and other regulatory agencies to help stem the tide of counterfeit drugs. Inasmuch as 80% of the counterfeit drugs look identical to the genuine product, the consumer must use other resources as well as telltale signs of a counterfeit product. The ability to buy the drug without a prescription and is a red flag indicating a counterfeit product.
The following simple steps will insure that you are getting a genuine medication from the Internet:
- When ordering online, first determine whether a prescription is required for a prescription medication. That will eliminate many of the websites.
- Next, look for an authentication from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).