Online pharmacies have become key targets of law enforcement fighting counterfeit drugs globally because the sites are so accessible to the public and so blatant about offering drugs they shouldn't have. While few agencies have the resources to fight them nonstop, once a year, authorities from around the world pool their resources in the International Internet Week of Action (IIWA). This year's was the fifth, and the coordinated global attack on illegal online pharmacies, by agents from 100 countries, hit more than 18,000 illegal sites selling unauthorized drugs.
The operation, code-named Pangea V, was coordinated by the international investigation agency Interpol and hit particularly hard at Russian gangs that are believed to be sourcing counterfeit drugs from China. Interpol said 79 people were arrested and agents seized 3.7 million doses of either unlicensed or fake drugs, estimated to be worth $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. Among those sent a letter were CanadaDrugs.com and affiliated websites for selling drugs like domperidone, which the FDA says is no longer approved for sale in the U.S. because of health dangers.
About the same time, the FDA launched a consumer campaign to publicize the dangers and to try to teach people how to pick online pharmacies that are most likely to be legit and relatively safe. The FDA's BeSafeRx – Know Your Online Pharmacy site has information on the dangers and tips on how to spot fake pharmacies. It even has videos. One tells the story of a 25-year-old Colorado teacher who got email from an online pharmacy, used it to order some sleeping pills, and ended up in the emergency room because the drug she got was actually a schizophrenia med. As FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says: "Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky."