National Consumers League

Gray market erectile dysfunction medications pose risk to consumers

Did you know the vast majority of online pharmacies are illegitimate? A review by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) found that only 2.4 percent of online pharmacies comply with U.S. pharmacy laws and practice standards. This alarming statistic sheds light on the growing threat of illegal, online pharmacies – a component of the gray market – to consumer health. While many online pharmacies may present themselves as a legal, safe, and/or cheaper option, purchasing medicines from these websites could come at the cost of safety and security if consumers do not take the appropriate precautions. 

Medications for erectile dysfunction (ED) – which affects 24 percent of men in the United States over the age of 18 – are among the most commonly sold medications on the gray market. Due to a number of factors including the stigma some consumers experience around sexual health conditions and treatments, many patients suffering from ED don’t talk to their doctors or have prescriptions filled. This creates an environment where consumers may instead seek out unsafe, illegitimate online pharmacies to get these prescription medicines.

In accordance with our mission to ensure all Americans have access to safe, effective medicines, the National Consumers League (NCL) partnered with Bayer to develop a white paper, Increased Consumer Risk from Erectile Dysfunction Medication Advertised and Sold on the Gray Market, to analyze the possible dangers consumers face by purchasing ED medications from illegal online pharmacies. NCL presented the paper’s findings in November at the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) Global Foundation’s Spotlight on Illegal Online Drug Sales Research Symposium in Washington, DC.

Based on the research, the white paper recommends five concrete policies to improve consumer safety, including:

  • Enhancing consumer awareness about the gray market and promoting health literacy;  
  • Encouraging healthcare providers to talk about the risks of illegal online pharmacies with their patients;  
  • Supporting collaborative law enforcement actions to combat illegal sales on the gray market; 
  • Increasing access to ED medicines by making them available over-the-counter, with robust consumer education and information programs; and
  • Adding to the body of evidence on the dangers of the gray market.     

To learn more about the research and the dangers of the gray market, read the full white paper here.