Counterfeiters Pounce on Coronavirus Fears, Federal Regulators Respond

April 2, 2020

Topics: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Counterfeit Drugs, Internet Pharmacies

Written by: Libby Baney, Faegre Drinker LLP and Matthew Rubin, Faegre Drinker Consulting

Amid what the World Health Organization now considers a worldwide pandemic, coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) has been the source of deep concern for individuals and communities across the globe. We hope all reading this have remained safe and healthy throughout the duration of this global event.

As of this writing, the national and international response to the pandemic continues to unfold. Bad actors have also responded to the outbreak, flooding the web, online marketplaces, and social media forums with offers of COVID-19 cures, treatments, and medical supplies. The US government has taken notice.

  1. On March 9, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission issued warning letters to seven companies for advertising and selling fraudulent tests, treatments, and cures for COVID-19. With no current, FDA-approved treatment available for COVID-19 and allocations of test kits being controlled by the federal government, these actors looked to profit from ongoing fear and uncertainty. Products including teas, essential oils, tinctures, and colloidal silver have not been proven to mitigate the symptoms of or cure COVID-19. A Healthline article released later that day summarized it fairly succinctly: “There is no cure for COVID-19, no matter what the internet says.”
  2. A short time later, just as the US declared a national emergency over COVID-19, US Customs and Border Protection officials in Los Angeles, CA, announced the seizure of six parcels containing suspected counterfeit COVID-19 test kits.
  3. On March 17,  FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, MD, authored an op-ed in USA Today urging Americans to not fall victim to false or predatory promises and misguided advertisements around potential treatments or cures for COVID-19. To date, FDA has received reports for nearly 100 unapproved products targeting COVID-19. In Dr Hahn’s words, simply, “Taking matters into your own hands by purchasing and using unproven products without consulting your doctor puts you and others at risk for serious health consequences.” He continues, noting, “The FDA will take action against unscrupulous actors who are marketing unlawful products related to this outbreak.”

Dr Hahn  noted that some false claims and unapproved or unsafe products may slip through the cracks. Given the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and ease in which bad actors can leverage fear for profit, it is critical that consumers and health care providers know how to find information and products they can trust. That makes NABP’s .pharmacy verified websites more important than ever.