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US FDA nets $41m of illegal medicines in online pharmacy crackdown

Regulator shuts down 1,677 sites in global operation

FDA headquarters White Oak

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week seized more than $41m worth of illegal drugs in a crackdown on websites selling medicines unlawfully.

In its latest move in the ongoing battle between the regulator and unregulated suppliers, the FDA said it took action this week against more than 9,600 illegal online pharmacies, closing 1,677 websites and seizing their medicines.

Other sites were issued with regulatory warnings as part of the FDA's ongoing Operation Pangea, which involves law enforcement, customs and regulatory authorities from 99 countries, including Interpol and the World Customs Organization.

The crackdown, which ran from June 18 to June 25 as part of its sixth annual International Internet Week of Action, was ordered to protect consumers from “potentially dangerous, unapproved prescription medicines”, according to the agency.

Products seized by the FDA included erectile dysfunction pills 'Levitra Super Force' and 'Viagra Super Force', which claim to contain dapoxetin, as well as schizophrenia drug Clozaril (clozapine), which can have serious side effects and should only be available to patients enrolled in a registry that ensures regular monitoring.

According to the FDA, many of the websites were operating as part of an organised criminal network that claimed to be 'Canadian Pharmacies', using false advertisements, such as 'FDA approved' and 'brand name' to dupe customers.

“Illegal online pharmacies put American consumers' health at risk by selling potentially dangerous products,” said John Roth, director of the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations.

“This is an ongoing battle in the US and abroad, and the FDA will continue its criminal law enforcement and regulatory efforts.”

The latest operation expands on from similar efforts made in October last year in an operation spearheaded by Interpol, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and authorities, including the FDA, which seized medicines worth more than $10.5m.

As part of that operation, the FDA said it took action against 4,100 internet pharmacies.

The FDA is also aiming to raise consumer awareness as part of its battle with online pharmacies, launching the BeSafeRx campaign last year to advise consumers on how to make safe pharmaceutical purchases through a website.

It's not just a battle for regulators, however, and earlier this month, a group of US national attorneys general saying it intends to subpoena the records and emails of search behemoth Google as its auto-complete function has the potential to push users to sites that sell counterfeit prescription medicines.

28th June 2013

From: Regulatory

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