U.S., international regulators crack down on illegal online pharmacies

Rogue websites, part of criminal organization, feigned affiliation with U.S. pharmacy retailers, FDA says

SILVER SPRING, Md. — The Food and Drug Administration is working with international regulators in the latest crackdown on rogue Internet pharmacies, the agency said Thursday.

The FDA announced the the latest effort, dubbed Operation Pangea VI, in which law enforcement, customs and regulatory agencies in 99 countries took action against more than 9,600 websites illegally selling potentially dangerous, unapproved drugs to consumers. The actions included regulatory warnings and seizure of websites and $41.1 million worth of illegal medicines.

Operation Pangea VI, named for a continent that existed 200 million to 300 million years ago and was a combination of all the continents of the modern-day earth, is part of the sixth annual International Internet Week of Action. The FDA itself, working through its Office of Criminal Investigations and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado, seized and shut down 1,677 illegal pharmacy websites. Many of the websites appeared to be operating as part of an organized criminal network that falsely claimed the sites were Canadian, displaying fake licenses and certificates to convince U.S. consumers to purchase supposedly branded and FDA-approved drugs. Many of the websites also pretended to be affiliated with U.S. retail pharmacy chains. One used the URL "www.walgreens-store.com," while another used "www.c-v-s-pharmacy.com." Both have been seized and now display a notice from the FDA.

"Illegal online pharmacies put American consumers' health at risk by selling potentially dangerous products," FDA Office of Criminal Investigations director John Roth said. "This is an ongoing battle in the United States and abroad, and the FDA will continue its criminal law enforcement and regulatory efforts."

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