Investigation finds online flu drugs scam

Purchasing flu drugs online may not be good for your health, federal officials said Friday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to use extreme care when buying any products over the Internet claiming to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure the H1N1 influenza, or swine flu, virus.

The warning comes after the agency recently purchased and analyzed several products represented online as anti-viral medication oseltamivir, known as Tamiflu. The pseudo drugs may pose risks to users, FDA officials said.

One of the orders, which arrived in an unmarked envelope with a postmark from India, consisted of unlabeled, white tablets taped between two pieces of paper.

When analyzed, the tablets were found to contain talc and acetaminophen, but none of the active ingredient, oseltamivir. The Web site disappeared shortly after the FDA placed the order. At the same time, the FDA also purchased four other products purported to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure H1N1 flu from other Web sites.

Those products contained various levels of oseltamivir, but were not approved for use in the United States. Several of the products purchased did not require a prescription from a health-care professional. Additionally, the products did not arrive in a timely enough fashion to treat someone infected with the H1N1 influenza virus, or with an immediate exposure to the virus.

“Medicines purchased from Web sites operating outside the law put consumers at increased risk due to a higher potential that the products will be counterfeit, impure, contaminated, or have too little or too much of the active ingredient,” said Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of Food and Drugs. People who buy prescription drugs from such Web sites are at increased risk of suffering life-threatening, adverse events. This may particularly be the case in the event of a public health emergency, such as an influenza outbreak, where approved treatment options would be in high demand and expensive, and where drug shortages could occur, officials said. Such drugs are vulnerable to counterfeiting and diversion when buyers become desperate to get anti-flu drugs.

Consumers should only purchase FDA-approved products from licensed U.S. pharmacies, officials said. The two antiviral drugs approved by the FDA for treatment of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus are Tamiflu and Relenza. Those medications also have emergency-use authorizations during this public health emergency.