The United States Food and Drug Administration has taken the war on the online sale and distribution of counterfeit medical products up a notch.
The FDA propagated this intervention during the 11th annual International Internet Week of Action, Operation Pangea XI.
The operation focused on targeting over 400 websites that participate in the illegal sale of prescription drugs to unsuspecting American consumers.
Sale of Counterfeit Products a Growing Problem for the FDA
The websites that conduct this business, which are around 465, seek to take advantage of consumers who turn to the internet to get prescription medication.
The sale covers unapproved antiviral, oncology and opioid drugs, thus posing a potentially dangerous threat to the health and well-being of the consumers.
The sellers of these drugs have managed to attract numerous consumers online.
According to statements made earlier this year by Scott Gottlieb, a commissioner of the FDA, these criminals have established complex networks which make it difficult to track them down.
Their business is quite successful as consumers can easily access the drugs.
The drugs are available both on the dark web and on the surface web. The distributors, thus, have managed to reach a significantly large online market.
The Crackdown: Pangea XI
The FDA, in conjunction with several international agencies of regulation and law enforcement, devised a strategy under the Pangea XI operation to identify the manufacturers and distributors of the illegal medications.
The plan further aims at completely eradicating the circulation of these drugs in the market by severing the hand that supplies them.
Special agents of the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations initiated the strategy. They were targeting online pharmacies that sell illegal medication.
The crackdown began after the authorities arrested a San Diego resident known as The Drug Llama for drug trafficking.
The suspect allegedly transported around 50,000 fentanyl tablets all over the U.S. through the dark web.
Fentanyl has become a common headline item over the last couple of years. In 2016, there were more than 42,000 drug-related deaths.Fentanyl caused more than 50 percent of these deaths.
This drug is also easily accessible through several darknet markets and forums.
Before the authorities caught The Drug Llama, they had launched an investigation on the dark web in pursuit of illegal drug dealers.
The FDA had sent warning letters to seven criminal networks in charge of the platforms for online drug business before the investigation.
Moreover, over 450 domains caught the attention of the registries and registrars of the right domain names.
According to the FDA’s announcement of the crackdown, some of these domains include bestgenericstore.com, top-meds-discounts.com and nextdaypills.com.
The innocuous domain names used present attractive yet covert operations only known to parties behind the scenes.
The FDA also targeted business operations that fuel the distribution of illegal prescription drugs online.
The administration’s cybercrime specialists launched investigations to trace the movement of the businesses’ money and ascertain the extent of the operations.
They monitored the credit card processors involved in transaction laundering, which facilitates the payment for the illegal drugs.
The investigation revealed that florists and clothing outlets posed as shell companies for laundering the illegal payments.
The authorities, thus, charged the illicit online pharmacies with involvement in an elaborate conspiracy.
The Operation’s Performance
This year, Operation Pangea has sought to continue with the initiative they began in 2012 and finally bring the problem to an end.
The inception of investigations launched six years ago in Operation Pangea V targeted an organization known as the Canadian Drugs Online Pharmacy Network.
The Canadian network ignored FDA warning letters, prompting action in the form of investigations.
Eventually, the police arrested the founder, Kristjan Thorkelson from Manitoba, Canada, along with several Canadian organizations. They admitted to having distributed illegal misbranded drugs in the U.S.
The Canadian criminals received hefty fines along with a probation sentence.
They also surrendered all information regarding their illegal scheme to the FDA and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Other than the FDA, other agencies and regulatory bodies that are working to curb the drug menace include the World Customs Organization, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime, Interpol and the pharmaceutical industry in over 115 countries globally, among others.
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