The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and international regulators shut down 1,677 illegal online pharmacy websites this week, and seized more than $41 million worth of illegal medicine worldwide, according to a statement by the FDA.
The authorities seized the offending websites, and posted messages on them warning visitors about the websites' alleged illegal activities, and the potential harms of buying counterfeit drugs.
Some websites used names similar to some major pharmacy retailers in the United States, such as Walgreens and CVS, to imply an affiliation with these retailers, according to the FDA.
Visitors to these websites could buy drugs that claimed to be approved by the FDA, and with names similar to existing brands.
"Many of these websites appeared to be operating as a part of an organized criminal network," the FDA said in the statement on Thursday (June 27). The drugs were neither brand-name drugs nor approved by the FDA.
Examples of drugs sold on the sites include "Levitra Super Force” and “Viagra Super Force.” While Levitra (vardenafil) and Viagra (sildenafil) are FDA-approved medicines used to treat erectile dysfunction, Levitra Super Force and Viagra Super Force are not approved by the FDA.
Other drugs sold on these websites included medications that have potentially life-threatening side effects, and should be used only when prescribed by a doctor, the FDA said.
The seizure took place as part of an international effort against illegal pharmacies, called Operation Pangea VI.
During one week of the operation, the FDA and other federal agencies screened drug products received through selected international mail. They found drugs such as antidepressants, hormone replacement therapies and sleep aids being mailed to the United States.
"Illegal online pharmacies put American consumers’ health at risk by selling potentially dangerous products. This is an ongoing battle in the United States and abroad, and the FDA will continue its criminal law enforcement and regulatory efforts," said John Roth, director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations.