People must be cautious when purchasing medicines online, as illegal and counterfeit drugs are a growing threat to public health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said.
With online sellers of pharmaceuticals continuing to increase, it is quite common for “pharmacies” operating without a license or that do not require a prescription to sell substandard or counterfeit products to people, FDA Deputy Director-General Cheng Hwei-fang (陳惠芳) said.
Many medicines of suspicious origin that contain no active or potentially harmful ingredients are often sold by overseas-based Web sites under the guise of legal online pharmacies, jeopardizing public health and contravening the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act (藥事法), she said last week.
FDA official Yang Po-wen (楊博文) said that some online sellers from other countries pretend to be based in Taiwan, resulting in consumers breaking the law for unlicensed imports.
When customs finds medicines or medical products in packages sent to Taiwan, it reports them to the prosecutors’ office, Yang said.
People who unknowingly buy drugs from abroad are usually fined NT$30,000 (US$942), he said.
Online pharmacies caught operating without a license can be fined NT$30,000 to NT$2 million, while importers of unlicensed pharmaceuticals can be sentenced to up to 10 years in jail and fined up to NT$100 million, Chen said.
Those who sell or intend to sell unauthorized products face up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to NT$50 million, she added.
Chen said that there were 820 cases involving illegal online pharmaceutical sales in the first half of this year, 567 of which involved unlicensed pharmacies.
Last year, there were 1,575 illegal online pharmaceutical sales and 1,152 unlicensed pharmacies, Chen said.
Licensed online pharmacies are only allowed to sell Class B over-the-counter medicines, such as hand sanitizers, mouthwashes, rubbing alcohol and ointments, such as Tiger Balm, to people without a prescription.
Class A over-the-counter medicines, such as painkillers, flu medicines and cough drops, can only be sold by brick-and-mortar pharmacies, the FDA said.
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