Taipei, Nov. 8 (CNA) Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday warned consumers to be cautious when purchasing medicines online, describing illegal and counterfeit sales as a growing threat to public health.
With online sellers of pharmaceuticals continuing to increase, it is quite common for “pharmacies” operating without a license or without requiring a prescription to sell substandard or counterfeit products to members of the public, FDA Deputy Director General Cheng Hwei-fang (陳惠芳) told a weekly news conference.
Many medicines of suspicious origin that contain no active or potentially harmful ingredients are often sold by overseas-based websites under the guise of lawful online pharmacies, jeopardizing public health and violating the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, she said.
Echoing Chen, senior FDA official Yang Po-wen (楊博文) said that some overseas online sellers are operated as if they are Taiwan-based, and this has led to consumers breaking the law for unlicensed imports.
Whenever the Customs found medicines or medical products in any packages sent to Taiwan, it will report the imports to the prosecutor’s office, according to Yang.
Consumers who unknowingly buy drugs delivered from abroad are usually fined NT$30,000 (US$930.33), he said.
According to Chen, online pharmacies caught operating without a license could be fined NT$30,000-NT$2 million, while importers of unlicensed pharmaceuticals could face up to 10 years in jail and a possible maximum fine of NT$100 million under Taiwan’s laws.
Those who sell or intend to sell unauthorized products could face up to seven years in prison and a possible fine of up to NT$50 million, Chen added.
She pointed out that there were 820 cases of illegal online selling of pharmaceuticals in the first half of this year, 567 of which involved unlicensed pharmacies.
Last year, the number of illegal cases of online selling of pharmaceuticals hit 1,575, with 1,152 operating without a license, Chen said.
Based on the Act and relevant regulations, licensed online pharmacies are only allowed to sell Class B over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, such as hand sanitizers, mouthwashes, rubbing alcohol and ointments, such as Tiger Balm, directly to people without a prescription.
Class A OTC medicines, such as painkillers, flu medicines and cough drops manufactured with medical contents, can only be sold by brick-and-mortar pharmacies, according to the FDA.
(By Flor Wang and Shen Pei-yao)