We're all tempted to save money on deals that are too good to be true...but some of them are just that. Consumer website pharmacies such as PetMeds and big box stores such as PetSmart offer to sell discount "name brand" drugs, but how and where did they acquire their products? Most are reluctant to discuss this since the vast majority of drug manufacturers only sell to licensed veterinarians or licensed veterinary distributors. Pet Med Express stated in its 2017 annual report to shareholders "Historically, many of the major pharmaceutical manufacturers have declined to sell prescription and non-precription pet medications directly to us. In order to assure a supply of these products, we purchase medications from secondary sources."
This gray market of "secondary sources" is a multi-billion dollar nefarious industry. China, India and others have long been known to flood the market with counterfeit drugs. Carmen Catizone, MS, RPh, DPh, is the executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, (NABP). According to Dr. Catizone, the NABP has uncovered websites shipping counterfeit drugs containing paint, pesticides and other dangerous compounds to unsuspecting pet owners.
Recently, a California online veterinary drug ring was busted after a six-year federal investigation into importing and selling foreign-branded, misbranded and unapproved prescription animal drugs. The perpetrator had been involved in this illicit trade since 2002. He agreed to forfeit $2.5 million in ill gotten gains. He was also fined $200,000 and sentenced to two and one-half years in jail! The NABP has a team that monitors the internet everyday for such rogue sites. Of the 14,000 websites identified, Dr. Catizone says 95% are illegal!
We'll never know how many pets have been harmed by bogus drugs obtained via the internet, but I do know of one. A Henrico County police officer adopted a five-month-old puppy from a shelter. He's very responsible and takes excellent care of his pets including the monthly heartworm preventative. Three years later his dog tested positive for heartworms. The drug manufacturer guarantees the product and would have paid for the heartworm treatment had he bought the preventative from a licensed veterinarian. They disavow any product bought online for obvious reasons. Heartworm disease can be fatal and its treatment is risky and expensive. It is safer and cheaper to prevent the disease in the first place. Fortunately the treatment was successful but, hopefully, we all learned a lesson.