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Thousands of websites were shut down, and dozens were arrested in Operation Pangea VI in June 2013.

The US Food and Drug Administration recently orchestrated a crackdown on illegal online pharmacies worldwide in an attempt to prevent these sites from selling dangerous and illegal substances, many of which masqueraded as legitimate drugs.

This type of crackdown has taken place every year since 2008, when Operation Pangea began. Working with the FDA on Operation Pangea VI were:

  • World Customs Organization
  • Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime
  • Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers
  • Pharmaceutical Security Institute
  • Europol
  • Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies
  • Visa
  • MasterCard
  • PayPal
  • Legitscript

More than $41 million worth of illegal drugs were confiscated, and 58 people were arrested. While 1,677 websites in the US were taken down, over 9,600 websites worldwide have been shut down or targeted for enforcement action.

Drugs Commonly Sold by Illegal Online Pharmacies

Many of the websites targeted by the crackdown called themselves “Canadian” but appeared to actually be part of an organized crime network that used fake medical licenses and certifications to appear legitimate. Some of the sites used variations on common pharmacy names in the US, with domains like “walgreens-store.com” and “c-v-s-pharmacy.com.” The fake drugs also borrowed names from popular medications, and included “Avandaryl,” a counterfeit drug for type 2 diabetes, and “Generic Celebre,” a ripoff of Celebrex (for which there is no FDA-approved generic). Two other fakes were “Levitra Super Force” and “Viagra Super Force.”

In the UK, drugs worth approximately £12 million (approximately US$18 million) were seized, and nearly 1,300 UK-based websites were shuttered. Most of the drugs seized in the UK were drugs for weight loss, hair loss, and erectile dysfunction, three of the most profitable categories of drugs.

People have become ill and have even died after taking drugs purchased from illegal online sources.

UK Pharmacists Warn of Rogue Pharmacy Dangers

In the UK, Royal Pharmaceutical Society figures show that one in seven adults claim to have purchased prescription-only medications without a prescription. Worldwide, the counterfeit drug market is worth approximately $75 billion per year. In one tragic case, a 23-year-old British medical student named Sarah Houston died after taking a fat-burning compound called DNP, which she purchased online. Popular with bodybuilders, DNP was banned decades ago due to dangerous side effects, and is now used as a chemical pesticide. It’s no longer classified as a drug, but is considered a banned food substance.

Buying Prescription Drugs Online

There are safe and convenient ways to purchase prescription drugs online, and indeed millions of people do so every year without problems. Sites that claim to sell prescription drugs without requiring a prescription should be avoided at all costs, because they are major sources of counterfeit drugs. Even if customers receive a product that looks identical to a legitimate prescription drug, the drugs may contain little or no active ingredient, and in fact often contain dangerous filler material.

Pfizer, manufacturer of blockbuster drug Viagra, has a lab devoted to analyzing shipments of products advertised as “cheap Viagra,” and scientists there say that many counterfeits are realistic looking enough that it takes chemical analysis to determine that they’re fake.

In addition to avoiding “pharmacies” that don’t require prescriptions for prescription drugs, consumers should stay away from pharmacies that advertise unusually low prices, even if they claim to be based in Canada. Very low prices are another tip-off to counterfeits, and importing prescription drugs into the US is illegal. Furthermore, many online pharmacies claiming to be Canadian are located nowhere near Canada.

Your best choice when purchasing prescription medications online is a secure online medical facilitator like AccessRx.com. AccessRx.com only sells FDA-approved medications, and requires a prescription for prescription-only drugs. Additionally, they have stringent privacy and security safeguards and ship quickly using discreet packaging and trackable shipping methods like FedEx.

Remember: it’s never worth risking your health or life by trying to get around prescription requirements or buying products purporting to be prescription medications at unrealistically low prices.

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FDA Cracks Down on 1,677 Illegal Pharmacy Websites