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Most Online Pharmacies Fake, FDA Warns

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 1, 2012 -- Fake online pharmacies are an emerging health threat, the FDA warns.

The FDA points to a recent study by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which represents the state agencies that license U.S. pharmacies.

Of the 10,065 online pharmacies in the NABP study, 9,734 -- 97% -- violated state or federal laws and/or NABP safety and practice standards.

Noting that 97% of online pharmacies are illegal in the U.S., the FDA has begun a campaign to warn consumers about what it sees as an emerging threat.

"Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by FDA, or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said.

While many of the web sites investigated by the NABP have shut down, others have popped up to take their place. The sites look like legitimate pharmacies. They may claim to be in the U.S. Many claim to be Canadian. Few are.

Most rogue pharmacies are part of networks that mix products from legitimate manufacturers with counterfeit products from various sources. Many of the counterfeits look so much like real drugs that only experts can spot them.

Unfortunately, patients' first sign that they've taken fake drugs is when their medical condition worsens -- or when they're harmed by unsafe products.

A group of interested companies has formed the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies. The founding members of the CSIP include American Express, Discover, eNom, Go Daddy, Google, MasterCard, Microsoft, Neustar, PayPal, Visa, and Yahoo.

CSIP has an online pharmacy checker at, where consumers can check out and report rogue pharmacy web sites.

Fake Online Pharmacy Warning Signs

Online pharmacies may offer low, low prices. But is the offer legitimate? The FDA warns consumers to beware online pharmacies that:

  • Allow you to buy drugs without a prescription from your doctor.
  • Offer deep discounts or cheap prices that seem too good to be true.
  • Send spam or unsolicited email offering cheap drugs.
  • Are located outside of the United States.
  • Are not licensed in the United States.

A safe online pharmacy:

  • Always requires a doctor's prescription for prescription drugs.
  • Provides a physical address and telephone number in the U.S.
  • Has a pharmacist available to answer your questions.
  • Is licensed with your state's board of pharmacy.

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