The trend of internet shopping has taken hold in the medical sector. But if you are considering using an online service to purchase medications (whether OTC or prescription drugs), you need to be aware of the possible dangers of purchasing medication over the internet.
A quick online search for your medication will show several ads asking you to buy them online. Some ads also offer the opportunity to buy prescription medications in addition to over-the-counter drugs. The prices are usually lower than what you get from the neighbourhood pharmacy. This will empower you to protect yourself accordingly.
It’s important that you learn to recognize legal online pharmacies, and understand how to buy your medicines online without putting your health or your personal information at risk. Here’s what you need to know.
Always scrutinise carefully
Ordering over the counter and prescription medications online, and from an unknown company is an unsafe practice. There are several well-known websites that operate legally whilst still offering the advantages of privacy, convenience, and safety that you need when purchasing drugs.
Recognising websites that offer to sell prescription drugs which have probably not been checked for safety or effectiveness is important. A rogue site often has unapproved drugs, drugs with wrong quantities of the active ingredient, or drugs with harmful substances. A false website might look professional, but it usually is an illegal operation.
The FDA was involved in a study where several products sold online as Tamiflu® (Oseltamivir) were found to instead contain talc and acetaminophen on analysis. Some people who placed online orders for some drug products (Zolpidem, alprazolam, escitalopram, and lorazepam) were instead given a foreign version of Haloperidol, a known antipsychotic drug.
These people wound up needing emergency medical care for various symptoms such as breathing difficulties, muscle spasms, muscle stiffness.
Recognising a website you can trust
A website you can trust should have the following:
- It should have a physical address in the country of production.
- It should be licensed by the state board of pharmacy in the state or country where it operates.
- It should have a licensed pharmacist to answer your questions.
- It should always request prescriptions to supply you with prescription drugs.
- There should be contact information available for you to speak with a person if you have concerns.
Always look out for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites Seal, (the NABP’s VIPPS seal) or visit the VIPPS website to find legal online pharmacies that you can trust.
Recognising a rogue website
If a website does any of the following, then you should proceed with caution when dealing with the website.
- The online pharmacy sends you unmarked drugs in unmarked containers.
- The prices offered are markedly lower than that offered by other online pharmacies.
- The website contains no physical address or location in the states for the pharmacy.
- They offer to sell drugs that need prescription without one. This is a definite sign that the website is illegal.
Stay safe by becoming knowledgeable about your prescribed medicines
When you are about to be prescribed any new medication, get familiar with the processes involved with filling your prescription. Familiarize yourself with your medications – the colour, the shape, the texture, the smell, taste and any markings on the tablet or capsule.
Always comment to your pharmacist if you notice anything different about your supplied medication. Be fully aware of the risks associated with buying drugs online.
Know about counterfeit drugs
Counterfeit drugs can be harder for the average person to recognize because it is a deliberately fraudulent practice. Both generic and brand name medicines can be counterfeit and the identity of the source of the medication is usually mislabelled to deceive customers into thinking that the product is an authentic and approved drug.
In the US, the FDA is responsible for protecting the public from being exposed to the deleterious effects of places that distribute counterfeit medication. Several modern technologies are being used to identify and prevent counterfeit medication from getting to the general public, but to stay safe you need to practice safe online medication purchase.
Safe practices when buying medicines online
It is your primary duty to protect yourself when buying medication online. When you use a rogue website, you place yourself at risk, your personal information which you have supplied is also at risk. The following practices will help you stay safe when buying medicines online.
- Check the websites that you deal with to make sure that they are fully licensed by the state and located in the US.
- If a website offers to sell prescription drugs even without a prescription, stay away.
- If a website offers to prescribe a drug without a physical exam or even an online questionnaire, then you should also stay away.
- Check the NABP website for any online pharmacy you intend to deal with. You can usually find out if the pharmacy has a valid license and has met the proscribed quality standards.
- Read all TOS carefully and discuss any privacy or security policies that you find difficult to understand.
- Withhold all your personal information – your social security number, your medical or health history, and your credit card information – if you are unsure that the website is committed to keeping your information private and secure.
- Ask about a licensed pharmacist and avoid websites that cannot provide you with one to answer your questions or address your concerns.
- Once you have found an online pharmacy that you can trust, try to always purchase from them rather than changing pharmacies every time.
The FDA has a consumer update, FDA 101: Health Fraud Awareness that provides a full range of information that can help you protect yourself from bogus health products and counterfeit drugs. You can read it if you plan to make a habit out of purchasing your medications online so you are better equipped to keep yourself safe. Purchasing medications online can be a safe and better alternative to having to run to a physical pharmacy every time you need a drug. Just stick to safety guidelines and you are sure to have a fulfilling online experience.