FedEx facing drug-trafficking charges over illicit pharmaceuticals

The courier is the latest major US firm to be held to account over its business with online pharmacies

The courier firm FedEx faces drug-trafficking charges after being indicted by a federal grand jury in California, in a case that highlights the growth in illegal online pharmacies selling dubious medication to people without a prescription.

The 15-count indictment accuses FedEx of conspiring in the delivery of illicit pharmaceuticals, including the sleep aid Ambien and the slimming drug phendimetrazine, despite repeated warnings from the authorities.

During the period covered by the indictment, between 2000 and 2010, FedEx is alleged to have adopted special policies governing the dubious deliveries that would prevent its employees being penalised if a pharmacy abruptly closed for business. Prosecutors say the courier firm made some $820m (£480m) by turning a blind eye to the questionable trade.

US Attorney Melinda Haag said: "The advent of internet pharmacies allowed the cheap and easy distribution of massive amounts of illegal prescription drugs to every corner of the United States, while allowing perpetrators to conceal their identities through the anonymity the internet provides. This indictment highlights the importance of holding corporations that knowingly enable illegal activity responsible for their role in aiding criminal behaviour."

Illegal online pharmacies began offering drugs without prescription at least as early as 1998 and have grown to meet burgeoning demand, particularly in the US where patients buy medication online for reasons of convenience and cost. One 2010 estimate suggested the illegal online pharmaceutical industry was worth $75bn. A report from 2013, by the US National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, found up to 50,000 internet pharmacies operating worldwide, 97 per cent of which are thought to be illegal by US and EU standards.

The counterfeit drugs they sell may contain none of the promised active ingredients, or contain incorrect quantities. Some may even contain toxic substances. Marjorie Clifton, the executive director of the not-for-profit Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), says more than 100,000 deaths a year are linked to prescription drugs that have been bought online.

"Whereas in the past people bought lifestyle drugs like Viagra online, there has recently been a rise in the number of prescription drugs bought online that are for either chronic illness or lifesaving medication such as antibiotics, HIV and diabetes medications," Ms Clifton said.

In 2011, Google reached a $500m (£300m) settlement with the US Government after allowing suspect foreign pharmacies to advertise to US customers using its AdWords service. In 2013, the courier firm UPS forfeited $40m (£23m) to the government that it had earned from delivering drugs without prescription. Both companies are now members of the CSIP, set up in 2011 to raise awareness of the problem of unregulated internet pharmacies.

Ms Clifton said the illicit websites, many of them based overseas, were often so sophisticated that they fooled not only patients, but doctors. "Many physicians are simply unaware of the prevalence of these illegal sites and are actually sending their patients to them," she said.

In 2012 and 2013, the CSIP went into partnership with the US Food and Drug Administration and Interpol to carry out Operation Pangea, shutting down thousands of illegitimate pharmacy websites and confiscating tens of millions of dollars' worth of illegal medications. Earlier this year, the operation seized almost 20,000 packages of such drugs at US postal facilities. Deliveries had originated from as far afield as the UK, India, China, Mexico, New Zealand, Laos and Malaysia.

Ms Clifton said the CSIP would welcome the involvement of FedEx in its campaign. The organisation's members already include Microsoft, Facebook, American Express and Visa. In a statement responding to the indictment, FedEx spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald said the firm had "repeatedly requested that the government provide us a list of online pharmacies engaging in illegal activity … So far the government has declined to provide such a list." FedEx transported more than 10 million packages a day, and could not be expected to vet them all, he said. "We are a transportation company – we are not law enforcement."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Developer - Watford - £45,000 - £47,000

£45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Product Manager - (Financial Services) - SW London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us