November 26, 2012

Online Pharmacies: Caveat Emptor!

On Black Friday, I wrote about the hidden costs for prescription drugs.

Today, Cyber Monday, I’m sharing some information about buying drugs via online pharmacies (OPs)… and why that practice carries risks. My source is the September, 2012 edition of Consumer Reports’ “onHealth” bulletin.

My interest in OPs (especially those in Canada) isn’t new. Who wouldn’t want to get the best price for a product he needs? Enter “online pharmacies” into the search bar (off to the right, below) if you want to check earlier posts.

CR doesn’t pull any punches here. It offers three compelling reasons why buying drugs this way isn’t a good idea:

Most Online Pharmacies are Bogus
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) evaluated 9,677 OPs this year, and determined that only 3% appear to be “sound.” The remaining 97% are “rogue.” The NABP – which regulates OPs – provided a few other surprising stats:
  • 85% of OPs do not require valid prescriptions from customers’ doctors, 
  • 50% provide foreign drugs, or drugs without FDA approval, 
  • 25% have foreign mailing addresses, 
  • 35% have computer servers abroad. 
The FDA Doesn’t Protect Drugs from Abroad, including Canada
CR makes clear that some Canadian OPs are “legitimately regulated.” Here’s the problem, according to the NABP: most OPs masquerading as Canadian simply aren’t Canadian; perhaps these rogue operators think Americans – who represent by far the biggest market for OPs – regard “Canadian” as the safest alternative to “American.”

Ingredients in these products manufactured abroad don’t have FDA approval, and may even be completely unknown.

Buyer, Beware: You Probably Won’t Get What You Ordered
In a recent test, the journal PLoS One ordered over 150 drugs from OPs they considered both “sound” and “rogue.” As you might imagine, there were problems. Some drugs just didn’t work. Some were counterfeit. A whopping 20% of the orders were filled with something other than what had been prescribed. A risk worth taking?

If you’re getting your drugs via the internet, use only the sites for stores you know and trust. In its article about hidden drug costs, CR gave a thumbs-up for these sites for offering the best prices on a number of popular, expensive brand-name drugs:
Finally, you can make sure the site you’re using carries the VIPPS symbol, which certifies its safety as one of the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites. It looks like this:

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