FDA launches interactive map of legal online pharmacies

SILVER SPRING, Md. — The Food and Drug Administration has launched an interactive map that allows users to find licensed online pharmacies by searching through states' board of pharmacy databases.

The site, BeSafeRx, is designed to help users distinguish between legitimate pharmacies and fake ones, noting that fake pharmacies will often use various means to appear legitimate. "If you cannot confirm that an online pharmacy is licensed in the United States, you should not use that online pharmacy," the site states.

The launch of the site comes amid a growing problem of patients seeking bargains by buying drugs from fake online pharmacies.

According to a report released in October 2012 by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies, 97% of the more than 10,000 online drug sellers it surveyed were doing business illegally, saying that it found 9,543 websites that appeared to obtain drugs from what it called "questionable sources."

Another report last year, from Portland, Ore.-based online pharmacy verification company LegitScript, found that rogue pharmacy operations tend to be highly organized. The company found that as many as one-third of rogue pharmacies at the time were hosted under the Panama-based Internet domain registrar Internet.bs. According to the report, Internet.bs was one of about 450 accredited domain name registrars and accounted for only 0.2% of total registered domains online, but up to 44% of rogue online pharmacy domains; 20 registrars accounted for 81% of the rogue sites.

Earlier this month, the NABP announced that it was seeking to curb the growth of rogue online pharmacies by creating a new top-level domain, .pharmacy, that only legitimate online pharmacies could use, partnering with international regulators, pharmacy organizations and law enforcement organizations. Top-level domains are the suffixes at the end of Web addresses that determine what type of organization operates the site, such as .com, .org, .edu and .gov.