An international crackdown on dangerous medications has resulted in the closure of more than 1,600 online pharmacies.
The Food and Drug Administration said in a statement Thursday that it took action against more than 9,600 websites in total and seized more than $41 million worth of illegal medicines.
"Illegal online pharmacies put American consumers' health at risk by selling potentially dangerous products. This is an ongoing battle in the United States and abroad, and the FDA will continue its criminal law enforcement and regulatory efforts," said John Roth, director of the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations.
The effort called "Operation Pangea VI," which involved the FDA, INTERPOL and other international medical and enforcement organizations, resulted in the closure of 1,677 illegal pharmacy websites between June 18 and June 25 this year. The agency calls it the largest Internet-based enforcement action of its kind.
Many of the sites, described as "Canadian Pharmacies," appeared to be an offshoot of an organized crime network that displayed fake medical licenses and certifications to convince people the medications they were purchasing were legitimate, brand name products. Other sites ripped off names of popular pharmacies with domains like "walgreens-store.com" or "c-v-s-pharmacy.com."
Operation Pangea targeted websites that sold unapproved drugs that might pose health risks given the uncertainties surround their ingredients.
Some of the drugs included Avandaryl, a prescription Type 2 diabetes drug, Generic Celebre" (the agency notes there is no FDA-approved generic version of the anti-inflammatory drug) and Viagra Super Force (which contains potentially unsafe, unapproved ingredients).
Since the action took place, visiting these seized sites will now bring up a banner displaying the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations Cybercrime Investigations Unit.
Counterfeit medications could prevent people from getting better or worsen their health.
FDA warnings issued within the past year including multiple alerts over fake versions of the cancer drug Avastin and Adderall.
Online pharmacies you use should be licensed within your state, and consumers can double-check this through the FDA's website.
Given the risks, the FDA urges consumers to visit its BeSafeRX website to learn the signs that their online pharmacy can be fake. Pharmacies that allow you to buy drugs without a prescription, offer big discounts or spam your email could be signs of a fake.
The FDA has more safety tips for shopping at online pharmacies.