FDA takes action against 21 websites marketing unapproved opioids as part of agency’s effort to target illegal online sales

Aug. 29, 2018

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it has warned four more online networks, operating a total of 21 websites, illegally marketing potentially dangerous, unapproved, and misbranded versions of opioid medications, including tramadol. The warning letters issued by the FDA to each of the networks state that they must immediately stop illegally selling these products to American consumers.

“The illegal online sale of opioids represents a serious risk to Americans and is helping to fuel the opioid crisis. Cutting off this flow of illicit internet traffic in opioids is critical, and we’ll continue to pursue all means of enforcement to hinder online drug dealers and curb this dangerous practice,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “Today’s effort builds on previous actions against the illegal online sale of opioids, for a total of 13 warning letters to more than 70 websites just this summer. The FDA remains resolute in our promise to continue cracking down on these networks to protect the public health. We have more operations underway, and additional actions planned. We are also working closely with legitimate Internet stakeholders, including leading social media sites, in these public health efforts.”

Patients who buy prescription medicines, including opioids, from illegal online pharmacies may be putting their health at risk because the products, while being marketed as authentic, may be counterfeit, contaminated, expired, or otherwise unsafe.

As noted in the warning letters, these websites offer for sale opioids that are misbranded and unapproved new drugs, including unapproved tramadol, in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. In addition to health risks, illegal online pharmacies can pose other risks to consumers, including credit card fraud, identity theft, and computer viruses.

The illegal sale of these products is particularly concerning, considering that FDA-approved tramadol carries a boxed warning, the FDA’s most prominent warning, indicating that the drug carries a significant risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse effects. The boxed warning for tramadol addresses risks including addiction, abuse, misuse, life-threatening respiratory depression (breathing problems), and neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (withdrawal symptoms in newborn babies). In addition, when taken with other central nervous system depressants, including alcohol, tramadol’s use may result in coma or death.

The networks receiving warning letters include:

  • CoinRX
  • biz
  • org
  • PharmaMedics

The FDA requested responses from each of the companies within 10 working days. The companies are directed to inform the agency of the specific actions taken to address the agency’s concerns. Companies who fail to correct the violations, as outlined in the warning letters, may be subject to legal enforcement action.

FDA has the full release

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