Is the Internet to Blame for Unsafe Drug Use?

FDA impersonators and counterfeit drugs threaten the public's trust in online pharmacies.
Feb 02, 2010


Angie Drakulich
Just before the New Year began, FDA warned the public that criminals were claiming to be agency officials and coercing individuals over the phone to pay fines as high as $250,000 for the illegal purchase of pharmaceuticals. These FDA impersonators somehow obtained records of individuals who had purchased pharmaceuticals online or through telepharmacies and told the individuals that their purchases were illegal. The impersonators asked that a fine be wired, most often to a location in the Dominican Republic.

The international scam is taking advantage of individuals who seek to buy their medication online rather than from a doctor or pharmacy. Often, online drug products are less expensive and provide more convenience and privacy.

The purchase of pharmaceuticals on the Internet is legal with a valid prescription. But in a consumer-safety guide on the subject, FDA warns that not all online pharmacies are US state-licensed, protect personal information, or provide accurate medication for the patient's condition. There's also the possibility of counterfeit or expired drugs being sold.

Fraudulent federal officials capitalizing on the growing business are now giving patients another reason to be paranoid about opting for online pharmacies. The fact is, according to FDA's website, even if a crime was committed, agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorized to impose or collect criminal fines. Only a court can take such action. FDA is working with other government agencies to pursue these criminals, who have also posed as special agents of the FBI, DEA, and more. The scam isn't entirely new. In late 2008, FDA warned of fraudulent special agents that were enticing individuals to buy discounted drugs over the phone—of course, the products were never delivered.

Although the Internet has provided the world with uncountable benefits, it seems to have opened a can of worms for the pharmaceutical industry—and for patients.

Angie Drakulich is managing editor of Pharmaceutical Technology.