1,677 websites shut down for selling counterfeit medication
It has emerged that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week seized a haul of over $41 million (£26.9 million) worth of substandard or counterfeit medication in their latest battle to shut down the thousands of websites plaguing the internet that offer low-priced unlawful drugs. The crackdown is part of Operation Pangea VI; a drive to stamp out illegal medicines and which involved more than 100 countries working together, according to Interpol. In addition to the $41 million worth of illegal medicines obtained, FDA officials have also confirmed they have arrested 58 people and have shut down 1,677 websites that were offering poor quality or counterfeit medication, or for offering drugs without required safeguards. For instance, if a website offering prescription-only medication for male impotence such as Viagra or Cialis does not provide a doctors’ consultation, this is immediately a red flag and should raise suspicion. In an attempt to dupe the unwilling public into parting money for the dangerous fake drugs, many of the websites the FDA shut down had sophisticated-looking interfaces and were successful in masquerading as a legitimate pharmacy. One of the websites found by the FDA - Walgreens-Store.com – was clearly trying to trick people into believing this was affiliated with the popular chain. However, their website is actually Walgreens.com. The FDA says the seized drugs included erectile dysfunction pills called ‘Levitra Super Force’ and ‘Viagra Super Force’, in addition to schizophrenia drug Clozaril (clozapine). This medication however has been known to have serious side effects and is only usually prescribed to patients who undergo regular assessments whilst on the treatment. Speaking to CNN about the problem of counterfeit medication, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg commented: “It impacts consumers every day. These products can have none of the active ingredient that people need for the treatment of their disease. They can have too much or too little (of the ingredient); they can have toxic ingredients, and they can prevent patients from getting the actual medications that they badly need to treat their disease.” During some of the raids last week, FDA and customs agents used handheld scanners with ultraviolet and infrared radiation to spot the presence of falsified packaging or questionable drug ingredients. Fake drug ingredients are still confirmed following the conduction of lab tests however. Los Angeles International Airport is one such place where the scanners are utilised due to the huge amounts of imports arriving at the airport. Also as part of the Pangea VI Operation and happening closer to home, investigators from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last week arrested a man operating from a housing estate in Kings Langley near London. MHRA officials exited the property with two large bags of Viagra-like erectile dysfunction drugs and his laptop for further analysis of his illegal activities. The man’s apprehension followed the MHRA tracking his website and system for taking payments, and purchasing some drugs themselves to test. Lab analysis showed the presence of illegal ingredients inside the tablets. This haul was just one of several across the UK last week and in total an incredible £12.2 million worth £12.2 million of illegal drugs were seized. In addition to erectile dysfunction drugs, they were fake slimming and hair loss tablets. The MHRA’s Acting Head of Enforcement, Nimo Ahmed, said: “During one week we have seized £12.2 million worth of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines. These were being stored in unacceptable conditions and supplied through illegal internet websites without prescriptions by people who are not qualified to dispense medicines." He added: “When people buy medicines from an illegal website they don’t know what they’re getting, where it came from or if it’s safe to take. The dose could be too high or too low, or the ingredients could break down incorrectly in the body which makes the medicine ineffective. They could also become victims of credit card or identity fraud as well as downloading computer viruses." Medical Specialists Pharmacy are fully aware that there are thousands of illegal websites plaguing the internet that offer ‘discounted’ and ‘genuine’ medicines. We speak to many patients who are clearly very reluctant to obtain medicines online. With this in mind, here are some important factors to be alert of when browsing through different websites: . No requirement of a doctors’ consultation for prescription medication. . Long delivery times, sometimes up to several weeks. This is due to the drug being imported from a foreign country before it gets to you. . The price of the medication is a lot cheaper than what would be expected, sometimes by as much as 70%. . The website does not list any contact details, e.g. a telephone and fax number, email address, company address or details of its pharmacists, doctors, etc. . A registered Pharmacy such as Medical Specialists Pharmacy will have the GPhC green cross logo together with its Pharmacy number. This number can be checked to see if it does actually exist. . The company registration and VAT number should both be clearly stated on the website. Both of these are a legal requirement.