FDA Issues Warning Over Fraudulent Influenza Drugs

The FDA advises patients to be cautious when purchasing influenza drugs online.

Today, the FDA issued a press release urging Americans not to use unapproved products that claim to prevent, treat, or cure influenza.

This year’s flu season not only resulted in a significant number of flu infections, but also an uptick in concerns regarding the potential of individuals purchasing unapproved products.

The FDA is especially concerned that patients may be lured into purchasing counterfeit antivirals online from websites posing as pharmacies, according to the release.

“This year the flu has been widespread, impacting millions of patients across the country, and leading to a new record number of flu-related hospitalizations,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in the release. “We understand the toll this year’s flu season has taken on peoples’ lives. As the flu continues to make people sick—and even cause deaths—unscrupulous actors may also be taking advantage of unsuspecting consumers by promoting their fraudulent products that have not been reviewed by the FDA to be safe and effective.”

The FDA advises Americans that there are no legal OTC products that can prevent or cure the flu itself; however, there are legally marketed OTC drugs that can address the symptoms of the flu, including fever, muscle aches, and congestion.

In the release, the agency noted that several claims may indicate that a product is fraudulent:

  • reduces severity and length of the flu
  • boosts immunity without vaccination
  • alternative to the flu vaccine
  • prevents the flu
  • treatment for the flu
  • faster recovery for the flu
  • boosts your immune response against the flu

Health scams—such as fraudulent flu drugs—can result in wasted money, delays in diagnosis and treatment, and may lead to serious injury or death, according to the release.

To combat fraud, the FDA issues warnings to the public and regularly takes actions against the companies that promote these products. Due to some companies moving their operations to new websites, there are still a number of unapproved and potentially harmful products being sold to Americans, according to the release.

Additionally, online pharmacies present a challenge in preventing patients from taking fraudulent flu products. The FDA has discovered several online sites that claim to sell Tamiflu at reduced prices or without a prescription.

Signs of a fraudulent online pharmacy include purchasing prescription drugs without a prescription, not having a licensed pharmacist on staff, extremely low prices, and operating outside of the United States, the FDA noted.

The agency said that these pharmacies can be dangerous because the drugs may have too much or too little of an inactive ingredient, do not contain the proper active ingredient, or contain harmful ingredients, according to the release.

Although legitimate pharmacies operate online, the FDA is advising patients to buy prescriptions at their local pharmacy or from pharmacy websites that require a valid prescription and are licensed, according to the release.

“The FDA is warning consumers to be alert, and try and steer clear of fraudulent flu products, which may be found online or in retail stores. We’re advising consumers on some of the telltale signs to look for when trying to spot flu products that may be fraudulent,” Dr Gottlieb said. “All of us must also continue to be diligent in doing our part to prevent the spread of flu however possible. People who are sick with flu-like symptoms and those who are at high risk of serious flu complications should see a health care professional as soon as possible to see if they should be treated with antiviral drugs.”