In the thick of a rough flu season, the Food and Drug Administration has begun fighting off Internet sales of untested, unapproved flu treatments such as “generic Tamiflu” and dietary supplements that claim to prevent or treat influenza. The proliferation of these fraudulent products in online pharmacies in response to the current flu outbreak is not unexpected, according to the FDA’s health fraud coordinator, who explains that “fraud emerges almost overnight” when any health threat is present, spreading particularly quickly through the Internet and social media.
The FDA has sent a raft of warning letters about fraudulent flu products to companies and website operators in the past few weeks. In one example, sent to the operators of topsavingspharmacy.com (Discount Online Pharmacy), the agency cites “the inherent risk in buying unapproved and misbranded new drugs” in the marketing and sale of generic Tamiflu (an antiviral drug that does not have an approved generic version). This website is among many in the rogue Internet pharmacy network Rx-Partners, run by a criminal organization in Eastern Europe; canada-generic.net, onlinegenericdrugstore.com, 24x7drugstoreonline.com are just three more examples of Rx-Partners websites that also currently offer generic Tamiflu. A deeper analysis would likely reveal many more websites that could be served with warning letters over fake flu medication. (This, of course, is in addition to the fact that websites in this network are selling prescription drugs without a prescription and the drugs they ship to customers aren’t being dispensed from a licensed pharmacy.)
Another online pharmacy network the FDA took action against is Secure Medical, specifically the websites viamedic.com, accessrx.com and a domain name listed in the letter as amerimedixrx.com, which we think probably refers to amerimedrx.com, a site we previously identified as part of Secure Medical. This network of unapproved Internet pharmacies has already removed the generic Tamiflu from its websites; along with those mentioned above, these include confidentialrx.com, myeddr.com and edensrx.com, all of which featured product listings for generic Tamiflu in the past year, according to cached or archived versions of their home pages.
Another warning letter, delivered to William Coleman regarding the sale of generic Tamiflu through sundrugstore.com, has not yet resulted in the removal of the drug from that website; others in the same rogue Internet pharmacy network, StenvaCorp, also list it for sale. Although Coleman is not currently associated with these other pharmacy sites (either linked to his name or to the email address willicoleman91[at]yahoo.com, provided in the FDA’s letter), they are on the same IP address block as sundrugstore.com. They are: sundrugstoreinc.com, sunmedstore.com, giantpharmacy.net and 66pills.com. (The registrant of the domain name 66pills.com also apparently operates verifiedpharmacies.com, which is set up to look like a search engine for “tested and manually verified pharmacies” but merely directs users to several StenvaCorp websites.) The FDA should extend its warning to these other StenvaCorp websites as well.
In addition to Internet pharmacies, several supplement websites have been singled out for marketing flu remedies. The FDA points out that there are no legally marketed over-the-counter drugs to prevent or cure influenza, and as such, products that haven’t been evaluated by the FDA but that claim to prevent or treat the flu are problematic. One warning letter was issued by both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission to the operators of germbullet.com, which makes “false and misleading promotional statements” about the nasal inhaler GermBullet. (These statements include a claim that the product was tested in an FDA-recognized virology lab.)
An FDA spokeswoman said other measures the agency might take to stop the marketing of fraudulent flu remedies include “civil (seizure, injunction) or criminal (prosecution) enforcement action as appropriate.” Consumers shopping online can avoid flu treatments that at best are ineffective and at worst counterfeit and dangerous to their health by ensuring that the pharmacy selling the drugs is VIPPS-approved. The legitimacy of an Internet pharmacy, as well as flu-fighting products that might be problematic, can be checked on our home page.