Drug safety is easy to overlook when buying medications over the internet to save money.
Drugs sold online can be too old, too strong, and too weak and aren’t necessarily made using safe standards, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Some counterfeit drugs can be very dangerous due to the activities of manufacturers outside of the United States, so it is smart to avoid ordering medications off the internet if possible. One exception would be ordering from a trusted source such as a major retail chain in America.
Between 10 and 30 percent of medication sold in developing countries are counterfeit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ordering medication and other drugs online became popular in the late ’90s due to the growth of the internet and the evolution of lifestyle drugs like Viagra, according to John Moore, DO, FAAFP, Aetna’s medical director for the U.S. Northeast Region.
“The public has read stories repeatedly about counterfeit medications and the dangers of getting medications online from outside of the U.S.,” Moore said. “You would think ordering medications from questionable online sites would stop, but the trend continues to go up. Many patients are simply trying to save money or there’s an embarrassment issue. Patients need to know there are significant risks with ordering drugs from sources that are not subject to the same safety standards that apply to U.S. drug manufacturers.”
As the option of online ordering grows in popularity, so too does the presence of rogue sites, which could sell potentially dangerous drugs, according to the FDA. Rogue sites can be an illegal operation.
The FDA recently announced it is working with INTERPOL to shut down over 4,400 websites that illegally sell counterfeit or unapproved prescription drugs to U.S. consumers.
Moore adds that there is a distinction between a mail-order pharmacy that’s part of a health plan and suppliers who sell medications directly to consumers over the internet. There are also unique circumstances where a person can only get a needed medication online since it may not be available in the U.S., but Moore emphasized that those situations are rare.
Drug safety advice
The FDA advises consumers to be sure the website requires a prescription and has a pharmacist available for questions before purchasing medication. Approved online pharmacies will display the “VIPPS” seal, which will link a person to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy website. The website will have information about the pharmacy and a searchable database of other approved pharmacies.
Approved online pharmacies will display the “VIPPS” seal.
“If a person doesn’t have insurance or can’t afford needed medication and is considering buying medication from a questionable online site to save money,” Moore said, “I would encourage them to talk to their doctor about this option rather than do it on their own or avoid taking the medication at all.”