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DEA Busts 4600 Online Pharmacies: A Word of Caution

Copyright 2005 David Altfeder

In September 2005, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) shut down more than 4600 illegal online pharmacy web sites and arrested 18 people who ran those sites. The illegal pharmacies shipped a range of medications to consumers without a valid prescription, including hyrocodone, promethazine cough syrup with codeine, phentermine and Xanax.

The DEA investigation, known as Operation CYBERx, also netted seven luxury cars, 2400 checks and money orders from customers and several boxes of cash. According to the DEA, the drug traffickers averaged more than $50,000 per day in profits through direct sales and through affiliate sales. They even sold cough syrup with codeine out the back door of their warehouse.

DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy said, 'Operation CYBERx puts out of business alleged cyber criminals who were selling powerful narcotics without legitimate prescriptions to anyone with a computer and cash. These high-tech drug dealers were fueling addictions by selling the very drugs intended to prevent and treat ailments'not inflict them. Just as important, this Operation makes more Americans aware that buying prescription drugs from these rogue websites is illegal and dangerous.'

It is important to differentiate between illegal pharmacies which dispense medication without a valid prescription and legal online pharmacies. A legal online pharmacy requires a physician to make an independent medical judgment about the appropriateness of the prescription request. If appropriate, the physician writes a legal prescription. The best of these pharmacies caution their patients to use their service wisely.

If you are considering a purchase from an online pharmacy,

- Avoid any pharmacy which offers codeine (hydrocodone) or other narcotics
- Avoid any overseas pharmacy
- Avoid pharmacies which are hosted in China, Russia and other foreign countries. A recent report indicated 20% of medication shipped from Russia is counterfeit.
- Examine the web site. Is it a pure sales site? Sites with news, articles, and health advice are more likely to be legitimate, long term businesses.
- Avoid purchasing from any site which has sent you an unsolicited email advertisement (Spam).
- Avoid pharmacies which allow you to order any quantity of medication. Legitimate pharmacies limit the quantity of medication you can order and limit the frequency with which you can reorder.
- Exercise caution. If you have a new health problem which you do not fully understand or which has not been evaluated by a physician, see a physician first. For example, if you wake up with a major headache which you've never had before, don't order pain medication from an online pharmacy, go to the emergency room instead.

Are there any conditions under which it is OK to order from an online pharmacy? While no formal standards have been developed to guide patients, there are certain conditions under which a purchase from an online pharmacy appears to be safe. For example, If you have been treated for a medical condition by a physician and you periodically have to reorder the medication, a purchase from an online pharmacy can save you the time and expense of a visit to the doctor's office. Even in this case, periodic re-evaluation by your physician is wise.


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