The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced that warning letters have been sent to online networks warning their services to shut down illegally marketed opioid medications.

Nine online networks that operate 53 different websites, are found to have been illegally marketing potentially dangerous, unapproved and misbranded medications. The federal agency warned that product seizure would be imminent if they did not remedy the face of their eCommerce drugstores.

The opioid crisis in the United States is one of the FDA’s top priorities. In 2016, over 40,000 people died from and opioid overdose and the numbers continue to rise, especially with the availability of drugs online.

The cat and mouse game between federal agencies and drug dealers is difficult to manage in the vast reaches of the internet. Cracking down on the distribution and marketing habits of online retailers helps to dismantle some of the schemes that contribute to the epidemic in America.

Donald D. Ashley is the director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. He echoes the sentiments of every person affected by addiction to painkillers: “Drug dealers and rogue website operators are using the internet to fuel the opioid crisis, heartlessly targeting millions of Americans struggling with opioid use disorder. We will continue to aggressively pursue these criminals and take swift action to protect the American public.”

Ashley reminded the public that no one is authorized to sell opioids over the internet with or without a prescription.

Among the many agencies and advocacy groups across the country, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlines a 5-point strategy to combat the Opioid Crisis.

  1. Better prevention, treatment, and recovery services
  2. Better data on the epidemic
  3. Better pain management
  4. Better targeting of overdose-reversing drugs
  5. Better research on pain and addiction

The FDA, in full support of the 5-point strategy, is working with internet stakeholders to crack down on the availability of drugs that contribute to the epidemic. Furthermore, partnering up with stakeholders helps to combat pervasive marketing tactics that put users not only at risk of addiction, but the possibility of consuming expired, tampered or unapproved opioids.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., has invited government leaders, academic researchers, advocacy groups to an Online Opioid Summit June 27 to discuss new ways to battle the issue of sale and distribution of illegal drugs.

“Today’s warning letters go right to the source of this illegal activity to let online network operators know that marketing illegal and unapproved opioids directly to U.S. consumers will not go unchallenged by the FDA,” Gottlieb said.

The networks that received the warning letters were:

  • AnonShop
  • Eassybuyonline
  • Instabill ECS-Rx
  • One Stop Pharma
  • RemedyMart
  • RxCash.Biz
  • TramadolHub
  • XLPharmacy

Some websites took the hint and have already shut down operations, but that doesn’t mean they won’t appear under a different guise later on.

BeSafeRx is an FDA-run website dedicated to providing consumers with precautionary measures on how to identify illegal pharmacies.

Safe online pharmacies require a prescription from a doctor, provide a physical U.S. address and telephone number, have a pharmacist available to answer questions and have a state board of pharmacy license.

Conversely, the FDA warns the signs of an illegal online pharmacy allow users to buy drugs without a prescription from their own doctor, send spam or unsolicited emails, are located outside of the U.S, are not licensed in the United States, and offer deals “too good to be true”.

The Opioid Epidemic is of paramount concern the federal, state and local governments across the country. The rise in availability has caused devastating effects on families and will not stop until drastic measures are taken to anchor the public with strong knowledge, awareness and resources about addiction.

The FDA encourages consumers to report any illegal medication activity to the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation.