The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on more than 500 websites that it says were illegally selling potentially dangerous, unapproved versions ofand other to American consumers.
The action, announced by the FDA on Tuesday, is part of an international operation called Pangea X, led by the international police organization Interpol.
Patients who buy prescription drugs online may be unknowingly putting themselves at risk, the FDA says, because the medications — while passed off as authentic — may be counterfeit, contaminated, expired, or otherwise unsafe.
"These rogue online pharmacies are often run by sophisticated criminal networks that knowingly and unlawfully distribute illicit drugs, including counterfeit medicines and controlled substances. Consumers go to these websites believing that they are buying safe and effective medications, but they are being deceived and put at risk by individuals who put financial gains above patient safety," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., said in a statement.
Gottlieb warned that the ease with which consumers can purchase prescription drugs on these online pharmacies is especially concerning, given the current opioid epidemic plaguing the country.
"Some of the websites sold unapproved versions of multiple prescription opioids directly to U.S. consumers," he said. "This easy and illegal availability of these controlled substances fuels the misuse and abuse of opioids."
As part of the operation, the FDA sent 13 warning letters to the operators of 401 websites. The agency also seized nearly 100 website domain names, including buyhydrocodoneonline.com, canadian-pharmacy24x7.com and buyklonopin.com.
Additionally, government inspectors detained 500 parcels suspected of containing illegal drug at International Mail Facilities in Chicago, Miami and New York. Packages found in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act will be refused entry into the country.
In addition to health risks, purchasing drugs from illegal pharmacies online can put customers at risk for, and computer viruses.
The FDA urges consumers to report suspected criminal activity to the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigation.