Are All Online Pharmacies Sketchy?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Beware of online pharmacies. Surprisingly, one–fourth of consumers buy prescription drugs online. Fraudulent and illegal online pharmacies offer deeply discounted products so it’s tempting to buy your medications without a prescription and at a cheaper price. But wait until you see the real deal.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took action this week against 4,100 Internet pharmacies selling counterfeit and illegal medicines. Earlier this year, during the week of September 25 – October 2nd, more than 18,000 illegal pharmacy websites were shut down.

What’s the problem?

• Counterfeit drug sales hit $75 billion worldwide in 2010, a 90% increase from the previous year.

• Many of these websites are selling unapproved and potentially dangerous medicines.

• The FDA screened the drugs received through the international mail and found antibiotics, antidepressants, cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure meds headed for American consumers.

• As you all know, many of those drugs could be risky to take without the supervision of a physician.

• Some of the meds being sold had been removed from the U.S. market.

• Other worrisome findings were folks receiving the acne drug isotretinoin (Accutane), which is available in the US only with strict monitoring to avoid pregnancy while on this medication.

• Also sketchy was the antiviral oseltamivir (Tamiflu), which is often sold as a “generic,” though there is no such approved U.S. generic. Tests by the FDA have shown that those generic versions of Tamiflu contain the wrong active ingredient and would not be effective for treating the flu.

What can you do if you want to use an online pharmacy?

• The FDA launched a website called BeSafeRx–Know Your Online Pharmacy. This gives you tips on how to understand who you are buying from and when it’s not a good idea to purchase through a website. You can find a link to BeSafeRx here:

• ONLY buy online through pharmacies that require a valid prescription from a doctor; are located in the United States; have a licensed pharmacist available for consultation; and are licensed by your state board of pharmacy.

OR . . . get on Goodrx and find the cheapest legitimate local pharmacy to get the best price for your drugs. Just sayin’

Dr O.

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