US regulator shuts down 1,677 Internet pharmacies

CVS and Walgreens pharmacies were among the spoofed brands

More than 1,600 websites selling pharmaceutical products, including some spoofing CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, were shut down this week in a sting involving 99 countries, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

Close to 8,000 more were warned against selling unapproved drugs or those without a prescription. The FDA said many of the websites were part of an organized criminal network that runs sites under the "Canadian Pharmacy" banner.

Called "Operation Pangea VI," the enforcement action ran for a one-week period through Tuesday, and investigators seized US$41 million worth of illegal medicine, the FDA said.

At least of the two of the websites purported to belong to the CVS pharmacy chain and Walgreens, using slight spelling and punctuation variations of those brands in domain names.

The targeted websites displayed bogus licenses and certifications in order to convince U.S. shoppers that their products were approved by the FDA.

In one instance, the FDA said a pharmacy marketed drugs for erectile dysfunction called "Levitra Super Force" and "Viagra Super Force," which both are modified names of FDA-approved drugs. But the medicines were claimed to contain dapoxetine, which is not approved by the FDA.

In 2009, the FDA shut down 90 Web sites hosted in the U.S. that sold unlicensed or misbranded drugs while also warning other ISPs, website operators and domain-name registrars.

Since 2007, the website LegitScript has vetted more than 300,000 health-related websites and those selling drugs. Of more than 34,000 online pharmacies, only 270 are considered legitimate with another 1,492 "potentially legitimate."

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