Sept. 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently took action against more than 500 websites that illegally sell unapproved versions of prescription medications.
The FDA partnered with international regulatory and law enforcement agencies as part of a global operation to target illegal prescription drugs sold online that are potentially dangerous, unapproved, counterfeit, contaminated or expired, including opioids, injectable epinephrine and antibiotics.
The action is part of Operation Pangea X, a global effort led by Interpol to fight the unlawful sale and distribution of illegal and counterfeit medical products and medication online.
"These rogue online pharmacies are often run by sophisticated criminal networks that knowingly and unlawfully distribute illicit drugs, including counterfeit medicines and controlled substances. Consumers go to these websites believing that they are buying safe and effective medications, but they are being deceived and put at risk by individuals who put financial gains above patient safety," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said in a press release.
"The ease with which consumers can purchase opioid products online is especially concerning to me, given the immense public health crisis of addiction facing our country. Some of the websites sold unapproved versions of multiple prescription opioids directly to U.S. consumers. This easy and illegal availability of these controlled substances fuels the misuse and abuse of opioids."
The FDA issued 13 warning letters to the operators of 401 illegal websites and worked with Internet registrars to confiscate 100 of those websites, such as buyhydrocodoneonline.com.
"As part of a broader effort to target this illegal activity, in addition to the operation that we are announcing today, the FDA is also working on a comprehensive Enforcement Operations Work Plan that's focused on combating the sale of foreign unapproved drugs to U.S. consumers and aimed at increasing the scope of our operations related to these risks," Gottlieb said.
Aside from obvious health risks, illegal online pharmacies pose risk to identity theft, credit card fraud and computer viruses.
"Our work to fight illegal online pharmacies is not over," Gottlieb said. "In addition to the multifaceted work plan we will soon unveil, we've recently tripled the staff we have in the IMFs to improve our ability to inspect packages that are suspected of containing illegal drugs, and we have doubled the number of cybercrime and port of entry special agents for the Office of Criminal Investigations. These efforts are part of a much broader work plan that the FDA is developing aimed at beefing up our efforts to interdict illegal drugs."