Background: Unprecedented drug shortages announced by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have severely affected therapeutic access, patient safety, and public health. With continued shortages, patients may seek drugs online.
Objective: To assess the prevalence of online marketing for current FDA shortage drugs and potential patient safety risks.
Methods: We performed a descriptive study of the prevalence of online marketing for shortage drugs—that is, offers for sale of each drug, including characteristics of online drug sellers and intermediary sites marketing these drugs.
Results: Of the 72 FDA shortage-listed drugs, 68 (94%) were offered for sale online. We found 291 offers for these drugs, the vast majority (n = 207, 71.1%) by online drug sellers selling direct to consumers. Intermediary sites included data aggregators (n = 22, 8%), forum links (n = 23, 8%), and personal page data links (n = 34, 12%), as well as Flickr social media links (n = 5, 2%), all advertising drugs without a prescription. Of the 91 online drug sellers identified, 31 (34%) had more than 1 shortage drug offered for sale, representing most (n = 148, 71%) of all online drug seller sales offers. The majority of these online drug sellers (n = 21, 68%) were on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) Not Recommended Sites list. Finally, for shortage drugs with an online drug seller (n = 58, 85%), 53 (91%) had at least one site on the Not Recommended list and 21 (36%) had only sites on the Not Recommended list.
Conclusions: FDA shortage drugs are widely marketed over the Internet. Suspect online drug sellers and intermediaries dominate these sales offers. As a critical risk management issue, patients, providers, and policymakers should be extremely cautious in procuring shortage drugs through Internet sourcing.