FDA launches campaign to highlight online pharmacy risks

Although picked up by only one televised news station, the Food and Drug Administration’s new national campaign to raise awareness about risks associated with purchasing medication from online pharmacies was covered by most of the major print and online media outlets.

ABC World News reported, “The FDA is warning that the vast majority, 97% of those online pharmacies, are not legal.” ABC added, “It’s a moving target of as many as 40,000 active online pharmacies, a huge majority of them fly by night start-ups, that the FDA warned today sell at a cut-rate price but deliver expired, contaminated and fake drugs that could harm the consumer.” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, was shown saying, “You have no assurance of the safety, efficacy or quality of those products.”

The AP reported that on Friday, the FDA announced it is launching a campaign to warn “consumers that the vast majority of Internet pharmacies are fraudulent and likely are selling counterfeit drugs that could harm them.” The agency’s said its BeSafeRx campaign aims to “alert the public to the danger, amid evidence that more people are shopping for their medicine online, looking for savings and convenience.” Dr. Hamburg explained, “Our goal is to increase awareness, not to scare people away from online pharmacies. We want them to use appropriate pharmacies.”

CQ added that during a “conference sponsored by the Partnership for Safe Medicines,” Dr. Hamburg listed “several improvements that the agency has made administratively to fight counterfeit drugs, including stronger partnerships with foreign regulatory agencies and a new Office of Drug Security, Integrity, and Recalls within the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.” She said that the “new authority under the 2012 user fee law (PL 112-144) is the most important recent development that has given federal officials more tools to combat those who would try to sell counterfeit or contaminated drugs.” Hamburg also noted provisions such as “those that allows FDA officials to get records before inspecting a pharmaceutical facility and other tools to get more information about drug manufacturers”; and the commissioner “praised language that says that if a drug is stolen, it has to be reported to the FDA.”

CNN in its “The Chart” blog noted that in “July, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy analyzed more than 10,000 websites and found 97% were not in compliance with US pharmacy laws and were listed as ‘Not Recommended.'” Dr. Hamburg said, “Fraudulent and illegal online pharmacies often offer deeply discounted products. If the low prices seem too good to be true, they probably are.” She said the FDA’s BeSafeRx campaign is “designed to help patients learn how to avoid these risks.”

ABC News on its Health page reported that in May, the FDA “surveyed more than 6,000 adults and found that almost a quarter of Internet shoppers bought prescription drugs online, and three in 10 said they weren’t confident they could do so safely.” Dr. Hamburg noted that consumers who want use an online pharmacy should go to one “that is licensed, located in the United States, [and] importantly, that will ask for a prescription from a doctor.”

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