Scam online pharmacies selling fake, dangerous pills find opportunity in the pandemicOctober 12, 2021
The coronavirus pandemic has kick-started a host of online and remote services, but not all of them are as useful as expansions to telemedicine or having groceries ordered online and delivered to your doorstep: Fake online pharmacies have also proliferated during COVID-19, putting their customers at serious risk.
“Criminals will use any emergency or crisis to make money,” John Hertig, vice chair at Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and chairman of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, told the Arizona Mirror.
Due to the pandemic, many people across the country and in Arizona were restricted in their movements, especially those with pre-existing health conditions that required specific medications. With that came a boom in fake online pharmacies taking advantage of the situation, Hertig said.
Online pharmacies have existed almost as long as the internet, as have ones that are operated by criminal enterprises or individuals who are not qualified to make or properly store the pharmaceutical compounds needed to make a litany of drugs.
“Most consumers think that, if it shows up in that first page results in Google, it has been approved by the FDA or Google,” Hertig said, adding that many consumers are drawn in by low prices and the ease of use.
Arizona, which has a large elderly population, is particularly at risk for fake online pharmacy scams.
The issue of fake online pharmacies has become so rampant that the Drug Enforcement Administration issued its first public safety alert in six years, warning of an increase in fake prescription medicines being sold online that contain dangerous drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Fentanyl and methamphetamine are not the only things that these fake pharmacies are putting into their drugs. Some contain ethylene glycol, a chemical commonly found in antifreeze and brake fluid, because it can make things have a “sweeter” taste. In some cases, it has been found in medications intended for children.
“It’s not a great business model,” Hertig said about using antifreeze in medications, but it can be a cheap alternative for those fake online pharmacies trying to make a quick buck.
Other times, law enforcement has found these pharmacies selling sugar pills as medicine. Or the pills are cut with inert substances like brick dust or chalk in order to dilute the medication used, allowing them to sell more pills, Hertig said.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg and in the wake of COVID other issues have begun to arise, especially with “alternative” treatments.
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