Criminal Action Against Drug Counterfeiters: Assessment of the FDA Office of Criminal Investigation Database 2016 Through 2021

Ann Pharmacother. 2022 Dec;56(12):1333-1338. doi: 10.1177/10600280221092482. Epub 2022 May 2.


Objective: The objective of this study was to describe law enforcement oversight of counterfeit drugs by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States from 2016 through 2021.

Methods: The FDA Office of Criminal Investigation database with hyperlinked press releases of enforcement actions was used to identify legal action against drug counterfeiters. Incidences of counterfeit drugs sold via Internet, how often they were obtained without a prescription, the most prevalent counterfeit drugs, the countries where counterfeit operations occurred, and the scale of counterfeit operations were assessed.

Results: There were 130 unique enforcement actions against counterfeiting organizations and individuals. Overall, 64.6% of enforcement actions involved counterfeit products sold over the Internet, in 84.6% of actions counterfeit medications could be obtained without a prescription, and in 33.1% of actions the products were sold as dietary supplements. Sexual dysfunction, opioid, stimulant, anabolic muscle building, benzodiazepine, and dermatologic drugs were most counterfeited. China was the most prevalent country to produce counterfeit drugs followed by India, Turkey, Pakistan, and Russia. Counterfeiting operations were large with tens of millions of pills and hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. Health outcomes for counterfeit drugs were rarely discussed in the press releases and not all press releases had data for each parameter of interest.

Conclusion and relevance: This is the first report assessing enforcement actions against drug counterfeiters from the FDA Office of Criminal Investigation. The FDA is actively involved in identifying and prosecuting counterfeit drug rings, but the number of enforcement actions is smaller than the size of the problem.

Keywords: FDA issues; counterfeit drugs; drug safety; erectile dysfunction drugs; opioids; stimulants.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Counterfeit Drugs* / adverse effects
  • Criminals*
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Counterfeit Drugs
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Benzodiazepines