There are numerous “rogue Web sites” that appear legitimate and professional but actually sell potentially dangerous drugs that haven’t been checked for safety or effectiveness. In the United States, counterfeit drug incidents are on the rise. For example, fake heparin killed 159 Americans in 2007 and 2008, and many more deaths likely go undetected each year. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), provides several safety tips to help safely purchase drugs and also for identifying counterfeit drugs, some of them are listed below.

What exactly is a counterfeit drug?

A counterfeit drug, also known as a copycat or fake, under U.S. law, is defined as “drugs sold under a product name without proper authorization.” It can apply to brand name and generic names. They can include products without the active ingredient, with insufficient or excessive quantities of the active ingredient, the wrong ingredient or fake packaging.

Should people who buy these drugs over the internet be concerned?

When purchasing from state-licensed pharmacies in the U.S., consumers can be confident of the quality, safety and efficacy. However, there are sites that sell drugs that are not legitimate. When purchasing drugs online, consumers need to look for the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice (VIPPS) seal which indicates the site is FDA-approved. For more information visit the VIPPS Web site.

Don’t purchase from a site that is willing to sell a prescription drug without a prescription.

Consumer Protection from Counterfeit Drugs

First and foremost, deal with only state-licensed pharmacies within the U.S. Consumers must be vigilant when examining their personal medications. Pay close attention to the appearance and look for altered or unsealed containers as well as changes in the packaging of the product. Differences in the appearance, taste and unexpected side effects should all be noted and reported to your pharmacist. They will likely know if the manufacturer has changed the appearance, flavor or packaging.


his is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it does cover the most common and important factors to consider. For more information visit the FDA Web site.