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Experts say you have no guarantee of what’s in a prescription pain reliever purchased online. You also run the risk of credit card fraud. Getty Images
  • Two federal agencies have warned four online companies about illegally selling opioids.
  • This is the latest action taken by federal authorities this year to crack down on websites that market prescription pain relievers.
  • Officials report that more than 130 people die every day in the United States after overdosing on opioids.
  • Experts say people should not buy opioids online from unfamiliar companies. Purchasing prescription drugs at a local pharmacy is probably the safest alternative.

In a first-of-its-kind move, two federal agencies are teaming up to fight the country’s opioid crisis.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced they have sent a joint letter to a handful of website operators warning them to stop illegally marketing and selling opioids.

The four online networks are Divyata, Euphoria Healthcare Pvt Ltd., JCM Dropship, and Meds4U.

Between them, the companies operate 10 websites.

Officials at the FDA and the DEA accuse the sites of illegally marketing and selling unapproved versions of opioid medicines, including Tramadol.

“We cannot allow rogue online pharmacies to continue to fuel the crisis by illegally offering opioids for sale and circumventing the important safeguards that have been put in place for opioids to help protect the public health,” Dr. Ned Sharpless, acting FDA Commissioner, said in the news release.

“This is welcome news” Dr. Caleb Alexander, the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness in Maryland and an expert on the opioid crisis, told Healthline.

But he cautions, “These types of websites proliferate quickly and to be successful, the FDA and DEA will have to be tenacious.”

Indeed, this move is just the latest salvo in the federal government’s war on prescription pain relievers.

Earlier this year, the FDA went after two other website operators for illegally selling opioids. And last year, the agency sent warning letters to companies that operated more than 70 other similar websites.

How bad is the opioid crisis?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the United States die every day after overdosing on opioids.

Last weekend, 10 people died from drug overdoses within 26 hours in Ohio’s Franklin County. The coroner told CNN the majority of overdose deaths are linked to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. She urged users to carry naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdose and to use fentanyl testing strips.

Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Two years ago a congressional hearing called “Fentanyl: The next wave in the opioid crisis” noted the drug was easily available online.

But it’s not just street drugs. Federal investigators are still battling the misuse of opioids from so-called “pill mills.”

This week, a Virginia doctor was sentenced to 40 years in prison for illegally prescribing more than half a million doses of oxycodone, hydromorphone, fentanyl, and other opioids to patients over a number of years.

“It’s important to recognize that the vast majority of opioids that have fueled the opioid epidemic have been distributed through the standard supply chain,” Alexander explained. “From drug companies to wholesalers to pharmacies to patients.”

“So while these websites are important to shut down, we must not lose focus on reducing the continued oversupply of prescription opioids in clinical practice,” he added.

Federal officials say people who buy prescription medications from illegal online pharmacies could be putting their health at risk.

Among other things, the products could be expired, counterfeit, or contaminated.

“Drug companies that are regulated by the FDA will undergo inspections, even if they’re made offshore, ” Matthew Grissinger, RPh, FISMP, FASCP, the director of error reporting programs at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, told Healthline.

“But when you have a company that is not regulated, you have no idea what’s in that tablet you put in your mouth,” he explained.

“There’s no proof that what you’re getting has anything at all in it. You don’t know what else they’re putting in it,” he added.

Federal officials also say you put yourself at risk of being a victim of credit card fraud, identity theft, and computer viruses when you purchase opioids on the internet.

The best advice? Stick to what you know is legit.

“The easiest way to avoid unsafe internet pharmacies is to use a pharmacy that has been approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy,” Alexander advises. “Or better yet, visit a brick and mortar pharmacy in your local community.”