Online Pharmacies: What you should know.

Online Pharmacies: What you should know.

by Keith Johnson, December 2009

The popularity of purchasing everything from cars to clothes via the web is a testimony to the desire for convenience. Now, purchasing prescription drugs via the internet makes taking care of medical needs easier and less expensive. Avoid lines at the pharmacy. Just point, click, and you're done. But wait. Can you trust those online pharmacies? And how do you know the drugs are safe? Be forewarned that while putting your faith in these sites may benefit your wallet, your health may not be so lucky.

Avoiding the FDA

Some consumers visit online pharmacies to purchase drugs that haven't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These medications aren't supposed to be sold in the U.S. because harmful side effects haven't been fully evaluated. Even though the government successfully shut down many unlawful domestic sites, equally-illicit foreign online pharmacies operate well beyond America's jurisdiction.

Foreign Online Pharmacies

Many online pharmacies are located in countries where drug manufacturing practices are much less strict. Place likes Pakistan, Mexico, Thailand and Fiji are common bases for foreign pharmacies. In fact, government investigations have revealed some of these pharmacies operate out of private homes. Alarmingly, many consumers don't know, or necessarily care, where their prescription drugs come from.

Many foreign sites actually try to pass themselves off as Canadian-based because of that country's excellent pharmaceutical reputation. Even though the quality of Canadian drugs is comparable to that of the U.S., some of the pills coming from Canada are actually manufactured elsewhere. In other words, don't trust it just because it appears to come from Canada

Prescription Troubles

Online pharmacies should always require a doctor's prescription before providing customers with drugs. Yet, a look into the online world proves this isn't so. Several sites fail to verify prescription authenticity. Some allow buyers to purchase after they complete an online questionnaire. Others request no medical information at all. Needless to say, a consumer without a prescription is vulnerable to taking unsafe dosages or the wrong medicine altogether.

Poor Packaging

Customers who receive drugs from the online world may be in for a surprise. Let's look at a few of the common problems associated with online meds:

* Drugs with no instructions or warning labels.

* Labels in languages other than English.

* Blister packs with holes in them, which expose drugs to moisture and light.

* Inadequate packaging, such as plain letter envelopes.

Unethical Practices

Many online pharmacies are guilty of poor business practices. The following practices are unfortunately common:

* Failing to ship drugs to customers.

* Selling contaminated or counterfeit medication.

* Substituting a generic or foreign version for a brand name.

* Providing a fake return addresses with shipments (to avoid tracking).


A few tips when shopping online for prescription drugs:

* Find out if your prospective web pharmacy is licensed with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Or buy from sites where you see the NABP VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) quality assurance seal. This guarantees you're buying from a group of online pharmacies that meet government requirements.

* Stay away from sites making outrageous or unsubstantiated claims about the drugs they sell. If a statement seems too good to be true, it probably is.

* Look for contact information like an address or phone number. Sites should also have a pharmacist on staff to answer your questions.

* Think twice before buying from a foreign online pharmacy. It's risky and law enforcement has little recourse if there's a problem.

* Report all problems to the FDA. The FDA may be able to shut down a domestic operation if it receives enough complaints. In the case of foreign online pharmacies, they may be able to warn others.

Any way you cut it, buying prescription drugs via the online world is not as safe as going to your neighborhood pharmacy. If you are going to purchase online, carefully investigate the site before purchasing. And if you see, or sense, anything that seems off - follow that instinct and shop elsewhere or return to your local pharmacy.