FDA Shuts Down Online Pharmacies: Dangerous Drugs Online


Home / FDA Shuts Down Online Pharmacies: Dangerous Drugs Online

Who is the FDA?

The Thalidomide tragedy took place before the FDA gained significant power to stop the sale of untested or poorly-tested drugs – as did the sale of cocaine in toothache drops. Advertisement by LLoyd Manufacturing.

In 1938, Congress enacted the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act requiring safety data prior to marketing a new medication, after unregulated antibiotics killed over 100 people.

As the public health disasters continued, the FDA was given more control after Europe introduced thalidomide as an anti-nausea medication for pregnant women in 1962. Thalidomide helped with morning sickness, but caused severe birth defects and fetal death.

While Thalidomide was never approved in the U.S., samples were given to U.S. doctors who then gave the drug to their pregnant patients.

No one wants another public health disaster caused by unregulated, dangerous medications imported from fake online retailers, which is why the FDA works to shut down online pharmacies without proper safety controls.

How Many Prescription Drugs are Really Sold in the U.S.? This Can’t be That Big of a Problem

With approximately 3 billion prescriptions written annually (2009 data) and 10s of millions of people in the U.S. depending on prescriptions and supplements for their health (FDA’s Safe Use Initiative of 2009), fake online pharmacies pose a significant risk to public health.

As the cost of medications continues to rise in the United States, patients are exploring cheaper alternative sources. Mary S. Schwartz, a consultant pharmacist in South Florida, discussed the dangers of unknown medications purchased from Internet websites with Decoded Science. “Like anything else with the Internet you must be extremely careful. As a consumer you have to do your research. Trust no one, especially with your life.”

Online Pharmacies: How To Research

As Ms. Schwartz recommends, talk to your local pharmacist, your insurance company or your state board of pharmacy, and utilize the FDA website to research online pharmacies as well.

The FDA offers consumers several resources to choose safe online pharmacies. They publish a guide called “BeSafeRX: Know Your Online Pharmacy,” which provides consumers with instructions on how to identify illegal online pharmacies and “Buying Prescription Medicine Online: A consumer safety guide” that discusses how to choose a safe site to purchase medication. One tip from the FDA is to only purchase from sites that require prescriptions and that have a pharmacist available to answer questions.

Buying Medication Online: Saving Money vs. Preserving Health

As medication costs in the United States continue to rise, more and more consumers will seek cheaper alternatives. Use caution when purchasing from online pharmacy sites, especially ones with credentials you cannot validate or that ship from overseas.  Finally, be sure and do your homework, research the pharmacy you decide on and make sure any medications you get are safe.


Kelly, Christopher. FDA Takes Action to Protect Consumers From Dangerous Medicines Sold by Illegal Online Pharmacies.  (2013).

FDA News Release. Accessed July 11, 2013.

FDA. BeSafeRX: Know Your Online Pharmacy. Accessed July 11, 2013.

Junod, Suzanne White, Ph.D. FDA and Clinical Drug Trials: A Short History.  (2013). Accessed July 11, 2013.

US Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration. Buying Prescription Medicine Online: A Consumer Safety Guide.  Accessed July 11, 2013.

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