International regulatory and law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have seized nearly $41 million worth of illegal medicines from more than 9,600 Web sites worldwide in an effort dubbed Operation Pangea VI that ran from June 18-25, 2013. The action was part of the 6th annual International Internet Week of Action, a global cooperative effort among 99 countries to combat the online sale and distribution of potentially counterfeit and illegal medical products. FDA obtained seizure warrants for 1,677 of the Web sites and has posted on those sites a notice that the domain name has been seized because the sites were engaged in illegal activity.

According to FDA, many of the sites, described as “Canadian Pharmacies,” appeared to be operating as part of an organized crime network that displayed fake medical licenses and certifications to convince customers that the medications they were purchasing were legitimate, brand-name products. Other sites reportedly used the names of popular pharmacies with domains such as “walgreens-store.com” and “c-v-s-pharmacy.com.”

“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 FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Director John Roth. “The agency is pleased to participate in Operation Pangea to protect consumers and strengthen relationships with international partners who join in this fight.”

Described by FDA as “the largest Internet-based action of its kind in the United States,” Operation Pangea targeted Web sites selling unapproved and potentially dangerous prescription medicines that FDA noted could pose significant public health risks. Products purchased from the Web sites also bypassed existing FDA safety controls. Medications sold included a diabetes and heart drug, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory product, erectile dysfunction drugs, and a drug used to treat schizophrenia. See FDA News Release, June 27, 2013.

In a related development, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report titled “Internet Pharmacies: Federal Agencies and States Face Challenges Combating Rogue Sites, Particularly Those Abroad.” The report details the complexities of rogue Internet pharmacies, which apparently consist of thousands of related Web sites run by operators that disguise their identities, and explains how they violate state and federal laws. GAO takes note of the collaborations between federal agencies and law enforcement abroad to disrupt these operations and of the steps FDA and others have taken “to educate consumers about the dangers of buying prescription drugs from rogue Internet pharmacies.”