The many problems with online pharmacies — i.e., that most of them operate illegally, are unable to ensure quality (or don’t even try) and put thousands of people at risk — are nothing new. Experts have estimated that around 10% of all prescription drugs in the U.S. were acquired illegally, and primarily through online pharmacies.
This has been a serious issue for years, but it only recently grabbed the media’s attention when 31-year-old Ross W. Ulbricht was arrested and convicted for his involvement in the notorious dark web marketplace known as the Silk Road. Plenty of dangerous substances such as heroin and LSD were often sold on the Silk Road because “dark web” pages are out of the reach of federal prosecution, but the website also became a hub for illegal transactions of controlled prescription medications as well.
Ulbricht was sentenced, just a few weeks ago, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Many people have expressed outrage, stating that it is cruel and unusual punishment for a case where the minimum prison sentence was originally 20 years, according to the New York Times.
But federal agents didn’t back down in Ulbricht’s case, and it seems that the U.S. government’s crackdown on illegal online drug sales is far from over: On June 18, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had partnered with several law enforcement agencies to target more than 1,000 websites that were selling potentially dangerous medications and medical equipment to unsuspecting consumers.
According to the Examiner and the official press release of the FDA, agents targeted these websites “as a component of the Eighth Annual International Internet Week of Action (IIWA), which was a global cooperative effort, led by INTERPOL, to combat the illegal sale and distribution of illicit and potentially counterfeit medical products on the internet.”
In most cases, the illegal medications or medical equipment were seized by FDA agents, and the websites were issued official warning letters before being shut down entirely.
CBS News states that nearly 400 websites were targeted for selling illicit or misleading medications, and nine websites were targeted for selling ineffective medical devices like dermal fillers and “colon hydrotherapy” drugs.