FDA ramps up crackdown on websites marketing unapproved opioids

Scott Gottlieb FDA
The Food and Drug Administration is in the midst of an effort to target illegal online sales of opioids. It's part of a push to target illegal online sales of painkillers that help fuel the opioid crisis, officials said. (FDA)

The U.S. Food Administration announced a new series of warnings to online networks operating 21 websites telling them to immediately stop illegal marketing of opioid drugs, including tramadol. It's part of a push to target illegal online sales of painkillers helping to fuel the opioid crisis, officials said.

“Cutting off this flow of illicit internet traffic in opioids is critical, and we’ll continue to pursue all means of enforcement to hinder online drug dealers and curb this dangerous practice,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

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The four networks that received warning letters include CoinRx, which bills itself as an online pharmacy that accepts bitcoin for payments, as well as MedInc.biz, PharmacyAffiliates.org and PharmaMedics. The letters warn the companies that failing to correct the violations within 10 business days could result in regulatory action such as seizure or injunction without further notice.

This adds to warning letters sent to stop more than 70 other websites from the illegal marketing of opioids this summer, FDA officials said. Gottlieb said the FDA has additional actions planned and is also working with legitimate Internet stakeholders in their efforts. Beyond opioid misuse among patients who purchase prescriptions online from illegal pharmacies, there are concerns about health risks posed by the possibility patients will receive counterfeit, contaminated or unapproved products, officials said.

It's part of a broader effort to block the flow of opioids for inappropriate use in the midst of a drug crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported deaths in the U.S. from drug overdoses reached a record high of 72,000 last year—more than the peak yearly death tolls from HIV, car crashes or gun deaths.

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The DEA has also expanded its efforts to drugmakers and may cut back the amount of a drug allowed to be produced in a given year if it believes a particular company’s opioids are being diverted for misuse.