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Buying prescription medications over the Internet

Written by: Evelyn Corsini, MSW
Published: June 29, 2009
Reviewed by: Kevin Zacharoff, MD, June 2009

Buying prescription medications over the Internet

You need to know:

  • Use of the Internet to buy medical products is growing rapidly
  • There could be potential dangers
  • There are resources to help you make good decisions

In the old days, the pharmacy was that store down the street with the pharmacist who called you by name.  Now, more and more people use the Internet to buy their medicine and medical products, and the number is growing rapidly in the United States.  As with other Internet purchases, consumers like the convenience, privacy, and economic value they get by purchasing products this way.  Unfortunately, there are many potential dangers when it comes to buying your prescription medications through an internet “pharmacy”.  This article describes some of the risks you should be aware of, and gives information about how to know if you are making a good decision before you buy the product.

While there are relatively few legitimate “pharmacies” now doing business over the Internet, there are many, many more phony or disreputable websites that sell medications illegally.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has written information to educate consumers about the risks of buying prescription medications from these sites.  The risks they describe include:

  • Websites that are not really pharmacies at all, or are not licensed in any U.S. state
  • Websites that may offer to give you a diagnosis and a prescription. In this situation, the diagnosis may not be correct, and the prescribed medication might possibly not be the right treatment for you or your condition
  • Websites that may not protect your personal health information
  • Selling medicines that may be counterfeit (fake) versions of a brand name drug
  • Selling medicines that are manufactured poorly, and don’t have the right amount of ingredients in them
  • Selling medicines may have expired already
  • Selling medicines that have not been made using safe standards
  • Providing medicines that may interact in a dangerous way with other medicines you are using
  • Selling medicines that may not be labeled, stored or even shipped correctly

The FDA has issued a “Consumer Safety Alert” listing 12 specific drugs with the caution: “Don’t buy these drugs over the Internet or from foreign sources”.  You can find the list at  http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/ucm078627.htm.  In reality, you pretty much need to be careful about any medicine you buy at an online pharmacy, but the medications on this list should never be bought anywhere other than your neighborhood pharmacy.

So what should you do to protect yourself?  Always talk with your doctor, or another trusted health professional licensed to write prescriptions in the United States before you get a new medication.  You should never get a prescription from someone you don’t know on the other end of a telephone line, or by filling out a chat screen on the Internet.  If you decide that you want to buy your medication from an online pharmacy, find one licensed by a pharmacy board in the United States; with a licensed pharmacist available to answer questions; and with the requirement for a prescription from your doctor, or other licensed health care professional who is involved with your medical care.

There’s nothing wrong with shopping on the Internet, as long as you are careful about where you shop.  When you’re shopping for your prescription medications, you need to have an increased level of care -your health is too valuable to gamble on it.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy in the U.S. has developed accreditation standards for Internet pharmacies, called Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS). They have a website where they maintain an up-to-date list of Internet pharmacies that meet their accreditation standards.

http://www.vipps.info/ 

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, want to hear from consumers who have had bad experiences with Internet pharmacies.


References

You can get more information on this topic from these websites:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Fact sheet on buying medicine over the Internet http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/ucm078627.htm 

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Don’t buy these drugs over the Internet or from foreign sources http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/ucm078627.htm 

National Association of Boards of Pharmacy/Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites http://www.vipps.info/