At some point in their lives, most people learn the old lesson about things that look too good to be true, sometimes by hearing it from others, and other times from bad experiences.
It should be hoped that nobody learns that lesson the hard way by buying prescription drugs that carry a high risk of being counterfeit, adulterated or otherwise unsafe to use from one of the thousands of rogue websites that sell them. Rogue Internet pharmacies occupy the online equivalent of that dark alley people usually know better than to enter. Luckily, however, some light is being shown on these rogue websites these days.
Last month, a report by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy indicated that 97% of the more than 10,000 online drug sellers it surveyed are doing business outside the law. The report, “Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program Progress Report for State and Federal Regulators: October 2012,” noted that 9,543 websites appeared to be affiliated with networks that obtain drugs from “questionable sources,” among other findings. The report concluded that it was important for members of the international pharmacy community to protect patients worldwide from the potential dangers of illegal online drug sellers, noting that the illegal sites provide a way to sell counterfeit drugs, while also highlighting collaborative efforts with organizations and government agencies around the world that have resulted in the exposure and shutdown of thousands of rogue pharmacy sites.
The federal government has stepped in as well. In September, the Food and Drug Administration launched BeSafeRx, an education campaign to discourage purchasing from rogue sites by providing such information as the tactics rogue sites use to appear legitimate. “Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not-approved-by-the-FDA or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients,” FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said. “Fraudulent and illegal online pharmacies often offer deeply discounted products. If the low prices seem too good to be true, they probably are.”
But according to a report released earlier this year by Portland, Ore.-based LegitScript, a company that verifies online pharmacies, rogue pharmacy operations appear to be highly organized. In March, LegitScript released a report showing that as many as one-third of rogue pharmacies were hosted under one Internet domain registrar, Internet.bs, a company registered in the Bahamas and based in Panama. Internet.bs is one of about 450 domain name registrars accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and accounts for only 0.2% of total registered domains online, but between 32.9% and 44% of the rogue online pharmacy domains and 20 registrars account for 81% of the rogue sites.
And a problem intricately related to rogue pharmacies remains as well: counterfeit drugs. In May, the FDA warned that counterfeit versions of Teva’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drug Adderall were circulating online. This came two months after Congress passed S. 1886, the Counterfeit Drug Penalty Enhancement Act. In September, the same day the FDA announced the launch of BeSafeRx, the agency, the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and others took part in a conference to find ways to stop the spread of counterfeit drugs, sponsored by the Partnership for Safe Medicines. “In an increasingly global society, heightened cooperation and information sharing between stakeholders around the world is an invaluable tool ... ,” Partnership for Safe Medicines treasurer Tom Kubic said. “And as more allies join our cause, we are better able to spread our message and educate the public at large about the extreme risks of counterfeit medicines and how to protect themselves and their families.”
Click here for the full 2012 Generics Report.