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NABP: Illicit online sellers are top purveyors of fake drugs
April 28th, 2014
MOUNT PROSPECT, Ill. – Online drug sellers are the most frequent conduits of counterfeit drugs and continue to pose a threat to global public health, according to a new report from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).
NABP's "Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program Progress Report for State and Federal Regulators: April 2014" notes that pharmaceutical and over-the-counter health care products were one of the top five categories of counterfeit goods seized by U.S. officials in 2013, and many of these shipments were tied to illegal online drug sellers.
Valued at $79.6 million, those products accounted for was 5% of all counterfeit products seized, based on the manufacturer suggested retail price of the genuine versions of the fake goods. In terms of the number of actual seizures in 2013, pharmaceuticals and OTC items came in fourth, at 2,215, or 8% of the total number of seizures.
The report points out that most of these rogue Internet drug outlets sell prescription drug products directly to consumers without requiring a valid prescription. What's more, many are distributing controlled substances, putting patients at a high risk for abuse and addiction, since they are receiving these drugs without legitimate medical care.
NABP said that almost 97% of the more than 10,750 Internet drug outlets it reviewed operate out of compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws and practice standards, as well as those of many other developed countries, and are listed as "Not Recommended" on NABP's consumer protection website, AWARErx.org.
Of the 10,392 "Not Recommended" Internet drug outlets, 49% offer foreign or non-Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs; 88% don't require a valid prescription; 12% dispense controlled substances; 23% have a physical address outside of the United States; 62% post no address whatsoever; and 16% do not have secure sites, exposing customers to financial fraud and identity theft.
NABP's report includes an overview of testimony presented at a Feb. 27, 2014, congressional hearing by public health, industry, regulatory and academic leaders. An FDA spokesperson emphasized that when rogue sellers operate on the Internet, an added layer of complexity and more players are involved, expanding the criminal's ability to reach consumers. That complexity also makes it easier for operators to hide behind the facade of the fake Internet site and makes it harder for cybercrime experts to track down these operations.
A U.S. Government Accountability Office spokesperson indicated that the "proliferation and widespread patronage of rogue Internet pharmacies has prompted public officials to identify them as a continuing public health threat."
To help protect consumers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement called for a three-prong approach focusing on public education, demand reduction and global collaboration. Expert participants highlighted NABP's VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) accreditation program and the .pharmacy Top-Level Domain (gTLD) initiative, among other efforts, as vital to educating patients about the risks of purchasing medications online and offering a means for finding safe Internet pharmacies.