July 15, 2013

July 15, 2013
FDA Closes 1,677 Online Pharmacies

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Monday and I hope you had a beary safe and great weekend. It is another busy week for Dab the AIDS Bear and me.

Living with HIV means that sooner of later you are going to be on anti-HIV medications. Unfortunately, these medications are very expensive so people are always looking for a less expensive way to get their medications. But you have to be careful when shopping for your meds.

The prices may look tempting, but ordering from an online pharmacy is often a bad deal, according to Interpol and the U.S Food and Drug Administration, announcing a crackdown Thursday on thousands of websites.

The FDA said it has shut down 1,677 sites for selling counterfeit or substandard medication, or for selling drugs without appropriate safeguards. Other sites received regulatory warnings. Officials said they also arrested 58 people and seized more than $41 million worth of illegal medicines.

Several sites had sleek interfaces and names that could easily be confused with legitimate pharmacy retailers. For example, the FDA shuttered Walgreens-Store.com; the well-known drugstore chain's website is actually Walgreens.com.

It impacts consumers every day. These products can have none of the active ingredient that people need for the treatment of their disease. They can have too much or too little (of the ingredient); they can have toxic ingredients, and they can prevent patients form getting the actual medications that they badly need to treat their disease.

The most common scams advertised popular drugs such as Viagra, Levitra, Celebrex and Avandaryl. The recent crackdown, labeled Pangea VI, involved the cooperation of more than 100 countries, according to Interpol.

It's difficult to know the scope of the online pharmacy problem but we still do have the safest drug supply in the world.

At some locations, FDA and customs agents use handheld scanners with ultraviolet and infrared radiation to detect suspicious packaging and ingredients. Confirmation of whether a product contains fake ingredients must be done in a laboratory. The scanners are in use at a handful of locations that handle a large volume of imports such as the Los Angeles International Airport.

The FDA also works closely with private pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, that run investigations and turn over evidence to law enforcement. Pfizer declined to say how much it spends on tracking counterfeits or how many people are working on the investigations.

Counterfeits are not isolated to online sales, and it is extremely difficult to know how many deaths and serious illnesses they cause. Unless a patient's adverse reaction is dramatic, the medication is usually not tested, so the vast majority of counterfeit ingredients likely go unnoticed.

But many experts agree the problem is daunting. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy recently performed an analysis of more than 10,000 websites, and found that 97% did not fully comply with state and federal regulations. It said 88% did not require a valid prescription, and almost half sold medicines lacking FDA approval. It's probably a multibillion dollar industry.

Most of these sites are based overseas, with a common scam of site operators presenting themselves as Canadian to lure U.S. customers seeking more affordable medication from a trusted place.

The fact of the matter is very few, if any, of these sites are actually based in Canada or (are) Canadian. In fact, they are located in China, India, Pakistan, around the world.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's website features a list of approved online pharmacies as well as those to avoid.

Consumers should also watch for a few warning signs. No. 1, the websites should ask for a valid prescription. If they don't -- beware.

Website pharmacies should have a licensed pharmacist available for consultation and should be located in the United States and licensed in the state where the website is registered.

Beyond that the basics still apply. If the costs are really low, if it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true.

Hope you have a beary safe and great start to your week!

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab