It may be more convenient for consumers to buy medicines over the internet but health regulators have long warned about the potential dangers of buying prescription and over-the-counter drugs online.
While there are online drug stores that operate legally, there are also rogue websites that sell unapproved drugs or medicines that have not been checked for effectiveness and safety, posing threats to consumer health.
At the peak of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, for instance, some online drug stores sold fake Ebola medicines claimed to prevent or cure the disease. At the time, no vaccine was available yet to prevent infection from the hemorrhagic virus.
Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has worked hand in hand with other agencies to take a more active stance against these online drug pharmacies that sell suspicious drugs.
On June 9, the FDA said that it has teamed up with international agencies to take action against 4,402 website that illegally sell potentially harmful and unapproved prescription drugs to consumers in the U.S.
The move, which is part of a global effort called Operation Pangea IX and was led by the INTERPOL, the world's largest police organization, aims to identify the makers and distributors of illegal prescription drugs so these unsafe products can be removed from the supply chain.
The FDA sent formal complaints to domain registrars to formally request for the suspension of more than 4,000 websites, which include 110 that sell 2,4-Dinitrophenol (DNP) for weight loss. DNP, which is often used as herbicide, wood preserver and dye, did not receive the green light from the FDA for use as drug.
During the enforcement action conducted between May 31 to June 7, authorities inspected international mail facilities (IMFs) and found U.S. consumers have been purchasing unapproved drug products abroad to treat an array of health conditions such as asthma, depression, narcolepsy and high cholesterol.
Nearly 800 parcels have been detained as a result of the inspection. The FDA also sent warning letters to operators of 53 websites that illegally sell misbranded and unapproved prescription medicines to U.S consumers.
Consumers who purchase from illegal online pharmacies do not just face health risks. They are also vulnerable to identity theft, credit card fraud and computer viruses.
"There are also many 'rogue websites' that offer to sell potentially dangerous drugs that have not been checked for safety or effectiveness," the FDA said. "Though a rogue site may look professional and legitimate, it could actually be an illegal operation.