FDA Takes Action Against Illegal Online Pharmacies through Operation Pangea IX
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FDA Takes Action Against Illegal Online Pharmacies through Operation Pangea IX

More than 4,400 websites that sell illegal, potentially dangerous drugs were targeted

June 9, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has revealed that it took action against more than 4,400 websites that illegally sell potentially dangerous, unapproved prescription drugs to consumers.

The project was part of Operation Pangea IX, the Ninth Annual International Internet Week of Action (IIWA), a global cooperative effort, led by the International Criminal Police Organization ICPO (INTERPOL). The goal of the operation was to identify the makers and distributors of illegal prescription drug products and to remove these products from the supply chain.

"Preventing illegal internet sales of dangerous unapproved drugs is critical to protecting consumers' health," said George Karavetsos, in a written statement. Karavetsos is the director of the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations. "Operation Pangea IX demonstrates the FDA's continuing commitment to stand united with our international partners to protect consumers in the United States and throughout the world from criminals who put profit above the health and safety of consumers."

The FDA sent formal complaints to domain registrars requesting the suspension of the 4,402 websites. Included in this total are 110 websites that sell the chemical 2,4-Dinitrophenol (DNP), a substance most often used as a dye, wood preserver, and herbicide. DNP is used in some illegal weight loss products and has never received FDA approval for use as a drug.

A recent FDA investigation into DNP distribution resulted in a guilty plea from Adam Alden of Bakersfield, CA for introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce. A Rhode Island customer who purchased DNP from Alden died in October 2013 as a result of DNP ingestion.

FDA inspectors, in collaboration with other federal agencies, screened and seized illegal drug products received through International Mail Facilities (IMFs) in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. These screenings resulted in the detention of nearly 800 packages which, if found in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, will be refused entry into the country and destroyed.

Preliminary findings from drug products screened at the IMFs show that American consumers had purchased unapproved drug products from abroad to treat depression, narcolepsy, high cholesterol, glaucoma, and asthma, among other diseases.

In addition to health risks, illegal online pharmacies pose other risks to consumers, including credit card fraud, identity theft and computer viruses.

For tips on how to identify an illegal pharmacy website and advice on how to find a safe online pharmacy, see BeSafeRx: Know Your Online Pharmacy.