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More than 40,000 domain names may be connected to online pharmacies at any given time.
FDA’s Cybercrimes Investigations Unit, created last year in the agency’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), is warning consumers not to purchase medicine from websites that claim to be Canadian pharmacies because most are illegitimate.
“Consumers are able to buy prescription drugs, unapproved drugs, and potentially counterfeit drugs without a full understanding of the risks that they take when they do that,” said OCI Director John Roth. “What worries me is that people naively believe that these medications are safe.”
A number of false claims have been made. “Claiming to be a Canadian pharmacy is one of the hallmarks of internet sites that sell illegal prescription drugs, which, in many cases, are not made in Canada at all,” said special agent Daniel Burke, senior operations manager in FDA’s Cybercrimes Investigations Unit.
Last year, FDA worked with international regulatory and law enforcement agencies to shut down more than 1,600 illegal pharmacy websites. Most of the websites represented themselves as Canadian pharmacies, claiming that the medicines that they sold were “FDA-approved” or “brand name” drugs - which they were not. FDA agents were able to buy products from these websites without a valid prescription and supervision by a healthcare provider.
“Some of the illegal sites used the names of well-known U.S. retailers to trick consumers into believing that there was an affiliation with those stores. Examples include www.walgreens-store.com and www.c-v-s-pharmacy.com,” the FDA unit stated.
40,000 domain names
According to Burke, more than 40,000 domain names could be tied to illegal online pharmacies at any time.
Burke and other agents have gone undercover in foreign countries to find the suppliers of illegal medications and the individuals who operate illegal websites.
Drugs marketed by these illegal websites have come from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Central America. The website operators have been tracked down in the United States and other foreign countries.
FDA is expanding its law enforcement capability overseas. This year, the first permanent OCI agent will start working at Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency based in The Netherlands.
If consumers suspect an online pharmacy is illegitimate, they should report it to www.fda.gov/oci.