International sweep attacks online pharmacies, counterfeit drugs

In a coordinated global attack on illegal online pharmacies, law enforcement agencies from 100 countries have shut down thousands of websites that sell unauthorized drugs.

The operation, code named Pangea V, was coordinated by the international investigation agency Interpol, the Financial Times reports, and hit particularly hard at Russian gangs that are believed to be sourcing counterfeit drugs from China. The report says 79 people were arrested and agents seized 3.7 million doses of either unlicensed or fake drugs, estimated to be worth ₤6.5 million ($10.5 million).

For its part, the FDA says it sent warning letters to the operators of more than 4,100 identified websites and notices to the registries, Internet service providers (ISPs), and domain name registrars (DNRs), telling them "these websites were selling products in violation of U.S. law." The agency didn't say whether it had shut any of them down.

A warning letter was posted on the agency's website earlier this week that the FDA sent to and affiliated websites. It said the sites were selling domperidone, which it said is no longer approved for sale in the U.S. because of health dangers. Similar warning letters were sent to Arkadiy Kisin/White Forest Solutions and Eyal Bar Oz, saying they were selling unauthorized drugs. 

Concern over online drug sales ratcheted up in the U.S. this year after it was discovered that physician cancer clinics had bought counterfeit batches of Avastin, the colon cancer drug made by Roche ($RHHBY). An investigation by The Wall Street Journal said the sales were tied to companies associated with A few months later, the FDA warned that counterfeit Adderall, the ADHD drug from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA) had been bought by U.S. consumers online. In both cases, the counterfeits did not contain the proper API and in the case of the fake Adderall, it contained a potentially addictive painkiller. The FDA last week launched a website and campaign designed to teach U.S. consumers about the dangers of buying drugs online. 

Because of inconsistent laws, and the international reach and elusive nature of online pharmaceuticals, the proliferation of online drugs has become an international worry that is hard to address. Authorities are trying to block links to the sites and online payment systems. Nimo Ahmed, of the U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), told the Financial Times, "We are trying to remove any safe havens so that groups are displaced to other criminality not involving public health."

- read the Financial Times story
- here's the FDA release

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