In addition to adverse health effects from taking them, just buying counterfeit drugs—especially from illegal online pharmacies being operated by criminals—exposes personal financial information and puts us at risk of identity theft.
Illegal online pharmacies are less likely than legitimate retail sites to meet security standards, and consumers who shop at them may be at risk of having their information leaked, stolen, or shared by other bad actors. And the worst of fraudulent illegal online pharmacies plant malware downloads intended to steal personal information from consumers who visit them.
With so much at risk to our health and pocketbooks, it’s crucial to know how to spot sketchy websites before sharing personal and financial information with them. For tips on how to stay safe when purchasing drugs online, please click here.
Real-life consequences of counterfeit drugs and illegal pharmacies
Some of the most common drugs purchased over the Internet are medications, such as those for weight loss, erectile dysfunction, anxiety, and opioid painkillers. Here are just a few examples of how consumers have been harmed in the past from unknowingly purchasing counterfeit medications from illegal online pharmacies.
In 2001, Ryan Haight purchased Vicodin, a painkiller available only with a prescription, through an illegal online pharmacy. Ryan received the medicine from a “doctor” who never even evaluated him in person. Ryan experienced adverse reactions to this medication and suffered a fatal accidental overdose. As a result of Ryan’s death, the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 was passed to help regulate Internet prescriptions. Enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the law requires practitioners prescribing a controlled substance to first conduct an in-person medical evaluation, with recommendations of an in-person exam every 24 months to ensure compliance. State laws may also include physical examination requirements.
In 2006, Marcia Bergeron experienced an irregular heartbeat caused by heavy metal poisoning from contaminated painkillers she purchased over the Internet and died. According to Marcia’s coroner, the website where she purchased the medications actually appeared to be very reputable; however, the medicine was shipped from overseas. Marcia’s autopsy revealed that the counterfeit medications she ingested contained high levels of lead, titanium, and arsenic, which caused her death.
In 2015, Tosh Ackerman took a portion of what he believed was a Xanax pill that he obtained from an acquaintance to get relief for insomnia. The counterfeit Xanax Tosh consumed was laced with a fatal dose of fentanyl.
In 2019, three Yakima, WA residents died after taking counterfeit oxycodone. The drug had been laced with a fatal amount of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin and is meant to provide relief for extremely painful conditions, such as cancer. This past July, these same pills, killed four San Diego, CA residents within the span of a 24-hour period. The pills taken by the San Diego residents were also blue in color and were marked with the same identifiers of “M” and “30”. The counterfeit oxycodone continues to spread across the country, as law enforcement confiscated 20,000 pills in NY alone in February.
The number of cases involving counterfeit drugs or illegal online pharmacies like these continue to rise, with the most recent counterfeit drug-related deaths occurring in Idaho, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Colorado. In all of these cases, the victims took counterfeit drugs that contained lethal doses of opioid pain medicine, such as fentanyl.