THE MAGAZINE

What Ails Online Pharmacies

By Carlton Purvis

Jeffrey Gren, director of the Office of Health and Consumer Goods at the U.S. Department of Commerce, says counterfeiters are using trace amounts of the medicine’s active ingredient in an effort to fool chemical detectors. Some counterfeits contain different drugs. Both Gren and Thomson spoke on the topic at the 7th Global Anti-Counterfeiting Forum in Washington, D.C., in November 2012.

“Even if it’s an exact duplicate, there are no chemical trials or tests to make sure the drug works [as] it’s supposed to,” Gren said.

Buying from online pharmacies carries risks beyond that of concerns about the medications, however. The rate of malware on these sites is very high, says Thomson. “You’re also risking your identity and risking your credit card details.” 

Another aspect of the illegal pharmacy industry is the difficulty of taking down rogue sites. A handful of major gangs own tens of thousands of domain names that they can use for illegal pharmacies, Thomson said. Just as quickly as authorities can take them down, operations can be moved to other domains.

Responses

A December 2011 World Health Organization survey of its 114 member states found that 66 percent of respondents had no laws regulating online pharmacies. Countries that did have such laws were twice as likely to prohibit online pharmacies as to allow them.
 

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