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Daily Deal: Does Amazon Sell Illegal Drugs?

The giant online retailer has found a way to skirt customs agents, but so far the feds have done little to stop them.

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The world's biggest...drug dealer? Shutterstock

By Paul Gaita

06/06/14

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An essay on Slate.com reveals that in addition to providing goods and services for millions worldwide, online retail giant Amazon.com has also become a one-stop shopping destination for prescription drugs, including antibiotics, muscle relaxants, and anabolic steroids. Many of the drugs Amazon sells require strict medical supervision to avoid dangerous side effects or interactions with other medications.

The feature’s author, journalist and physician Ford Vox, discovered the loophole after his wife purchased a skin treatment medication called Vitara Clinda Gel, which turned out to be a prescription-only antibiotic called Clindamycin, which can create an abundance of potentially lethal bacteria in the intestines. Vox’s wife received the gel from a third-party seller in Thailand, who marked the package’s customs tag as a gift; a standard-issue means of getting around Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

Vox also cited a recent seizure by CBP agents of hundreds of illegally distributed prescription drugs purchased through more than a thousand online retailers. Yet Amazon avoids such scenarios by virtue of the massive size and scope of its daily global shipments to distribution centers, which are too unwieldy to be accurately inspected by customs agents.

Instead, the job of overseeing Amazon’s sale policies would fall to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), which according to Vox has not launched any official inquiry into the retailer’s business practices. In doing so, Amazon has been allowed to sell an array of illegal compounds and products, including anabolic steroids like M-Drol and P-Plex, which resulted in a $7 million fine for the online distributor BodyBuilding.com in 2012, and compounds like TR3N, which contains a prohormone that converts into an anabolic steroid when introduced to the human body.

In some cases, Amazon not only hosts third-party individuals and companies selling these products, but also fulfills these orders by shipping them from its own warehouses. A glimmer of response from the government has surfaced in the form of the bipartisan Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2014 that seeks to give the DEA the right to declare new designer steroids as controlled substances before they can be sold on Amazon and other sites. But as Vox noted, the bill, which is still in the introductory phase, is unlikely to have any significant impact on the Amazon juggernaut.

As for the company’s own policy, Amazon public relations manager Erik Fairleigh is quoted in the Slate piece as stating that sellers are responsible for providing “authentic products,” and those in violation of their counterfeiting rule are subject to forfeiture of payments.

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