FDA Targets Illegal Online Prescription Drug Sales

By John Lavitt 06/14/16

The FDA has requested the suspension of over 4,000 illegal websites which sold mislabeled or unapproved drug products. 

FDA Targets Illegal Online Prescription Drug Sales

Online pharmacies are the latest target of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This month, the agency cracked down on 4,402 websites believed to be selling "potentially dangerous, unapproved" prescription drugs to American consumers. The FDA requested the suspension of the websites after a week-long investigation that ran from May 31 to June 7. 

The agency's efforts to curb the unlawful sale of illegal prescription drugs on the Internet was part of "Operation Pangea IX," which sought to "identify the makers and distributors of illegal prescription drug products and to remove these products from the supply chain," according to a press release. The agency worked alongside other regulatory and law enforcement agencies including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Upon extensive inspections at International Mail Facilities, investigators found that U.S. consumers purchased "certain unapproved drug products" from other countries to treat a range of conditions including depression, narcolepsy, high cholesterol, glaucoma, and asthma.

In addition to sending formal complaints to domain registrars to demand the suspension of the 4,402 websites, the agency also issued warnings to 53 other websites that were believed to illegally offer "unapproved and misbranded prescription drug products." 

Among the drugs targeted by Operation Pangea IX was 2,4-Dinitrophenol (DNP), a chemical that is marketed for extreme weight loss but is not approved by the FDA. Under the Food and Drug Cosmetic Act of 1938, the chemical—which is used as a dye, wood preserver, and herbicide—was deemed “extremely dangerous and not fit for human consumption.”  

Out of the 4,000-plus websites that were targeted by the FDA, 110 of them sold DNP as a weight loss product. A recent FDA investigation revealed the potential deadly outcome of taking DNP, when a Rhode Island resident died after consuming the chemical purchased over the Internet from sources including Adam Alden, of Bakersfield, California, who sold his product throughout the U.S. on eBay.

Almost three years after the death of the individual in October 2013, Alden pleaded guilty in May to one count of introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce. Alden is scheduled to be sentenced by a U.S. District Court judge on July 19. His offense is punishable by up to one year in prison or five years probation, and a possible $100,000 fine.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.