New Campaign Against Bogus Online Pharmacies

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has launched yet another campaign against illegal online pharmacies, sending warning letters to the operators of 53 websites that they must stop marketing oxycodone, tramadol and other opioid medications.

"This illegal online marketing of unapproved opioids is contributing to the nation’s opioid crisis,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD.  “Opioids bought online may be counterfeit and could contain other dangerous substances. Consumers who use these products take significant risk with their lives.”

Gottlieb said the FDA would take additional steps in coming months to stop the online sale of opioids and their shipment through the mail. The agency also plans to hold a summit June 27 with internet stakeholders, researchers and advocacy groups to find new ways to work collaboratively to address the problem.

Last September, the FDA sent similar warning letters to over 500 online pharmacies as part of an international operation called Pangea X. Interpol said it seized over $51 million in illicit and counterfeit medications as a result of the investigation. Over 400 people were arrested worldwide and 3,584 websites shut down.

The problem with these law enforcement efforts is that many of the bogus pharmacies are quickly back online under different names and website addresses.  


Some of websites being targeted in the latest FDA crackdown operate brazenly, offering opioids and other controlled substances without a prescription.

“One advantage of buying medication through our website is that it’s cheap and exciting. Sometimes, what happens is that the drug can only be bought with a prescription, and getting prescription is not that simple,” one operator claims. “(We provide) the solution to this. We don’t require any prescription or proof of recommendation. If you need any sort of medication, just go to our website, log in and place the order. After the payment is made, the order is finalized and shipped to your place.”

Another website claims “you won’t need a written prescription from a doctor as we have doctors within our team who will write your prescription free of cost.”

Online Pain Pharma then displays images of four smiling “doctors” with specialties in radiology, emergency care, radiology and rheumatology. The names appear fictitious and the pictures are stock photo images that can be purchased from a website that sells images of “Smiling Medical People With Stethoscopes.”

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Dr. Anna Mariya may be a radiologist for Online Pain Pharma, but on a pediatrician's website she’s an orthopedic specialist named Dr. Bagavativarasyar.  

The FDA warning letters were sent to nine online pharmacy operators, most of which have multiple websites. They were given 10 working days to respond.

"The public needs to know that no one is authorized to sell or distribute opioids via the internet in the U.S., with or without a prescription," said Donald Ashley, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "Drug dealers and rogue website operators are using the internet to fuel the opioid crisis, heartlessly targeting millions of Americans struggling with opioid use disorder.”

According to one estimate, as many as 35,000 online pharmacies are in operation worldwide. About half are selling counterfeit painkillers and other fake medications. About 20 illegal online pharmacies are launched every day.