National Consumers League

FDA launches new campaign to keep consumers safe from illegal online pharmacies


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burkholder1By Rebecca Burkholder, NCL Vice President for Health Policy The sales of counterfeit drugs through bogus online pharmacies continue to rise. According to a recent survey by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, nearly one in four adult Internet consumers has purchased prescription medicine online. Some of these Internet users may be at risk of harm because they have purchased medicine from questionable online sources.  To protect consumers from the growing threat of fake online pharmacies, FDA is launching a national educational campaign, “BeSafeRx – Know Your Online Pharmacy.” The campaign seeks to increase public awareness about the dangers of buying from illegal online pharmacies and provides resources to help consumers buy prescriptions safely online. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) estimates that more than 97 percent of websites that present themselves as online pharmacies do not meet pharmacy laws and NABP’s practice standards. These websites are often selling unapproved versions of medicines used in the United States—or worse, the drugs may be made with harmful ingredients.  A 2011 Wall Street Journal report, estimated that the counterfeit drug industry netted $24 billion worldwide every year. These drugs are not FDA approved, have not been tested, and their contents are unknown. Consumers should not be tempted by the appeal of cheap drugs at the risk of their health. The BeSafeRx website contains an interactive map that lets consumers search for licensed online pharmacies in their state. A few signs that an online pharmacy might be illegitimate include:

  • The Web site does not ask you for a prescription before purchasing the drug.
  • There is no doctor or pharmacist you can easily talk to if you have questions or concerns regarding a drug.
  • The Web site asks you to pay for the prescription using a third party payment system such as Western Union or PayPal.
Every year, the FDA issues numerous warnings about counterfeit versions of drugs intended to treat cancer patients. The stakes are high, and with the counterfeit market continuing to expand, many in Washington want to take action to curb this problem. One bill proposes a track-and-trace system that mandates a bar code be placed on prescriptions and then be scanned by everyone who comes in contact with the drug so the medication can be better tracked through the supply chain. Buying counterfeit drugs can not only hurt your health, but also hurt your wallet. If you think you have purchased counterfeit drugs please report the incident to the FDA. For more information, check out our information on counterfeit drugs at Fraud.org. Before purchasing any drugs online make sure you are using a reputable online pharmacy.