Ordering medications on the internet from virtually any online pharmacy poses a serious danger for consumers, according to a new warning issued by federal health officials.
The FDA launched a new initiative last week, aimed at educating the public about fake drug pharmacies operating on the internet.
The agency has launched a new webpage dedicated to the issue, BeSafeRx, and will take other steps to raise awareness about the dangers associated with attempting to purchase prescription drugs from online pharmacy websites.
FDA investigators determined that only 3% of all online pharmacies are legitimate operations working within the laws of the United States. However, approximately 25% of internet shoppers admit to buying prescription drugs online and 30% say they do not know how to filter through the flood of websites and determine which internet pharmacies are legitimate and which are not.
Fake Pharmacies Put Health And Wallet At Risk
The most obvious risks associated with purchasing drugs online is the potential that consumers may receive counterfeit or bad drugs. These could be drugs that do not actually have the claimed active ingredients, or medications that have been contaminated or expired.
Even slight differences in formulation could have a big impact on the drug’s effectiveness or side effects, according to federal health regulators. The drugs may also come without medication guides, warnings about potentially dangerous drug combinations or other information about side effects, which are supposed to be provided to consumers.
One of the less obvious risks from ordering medications on-line is the potential for identification theft. Fake pharmacy websites could collect valuable personal information, such as social security numbers, credit card data and banking information and then intentionally misuse that data. The use of those websites could also expose consumers to harassment by numerous e-mails and phone calls after their information has been sold to other websites.
The FDA gave the following tips for identifying safe and legitimate online pharmacies, indicating that a legitimate internet pharmacy will:
- Require valid prescriptions for prescription drugs.
- Have a physical address in the United States.
- Be licensed by the state board of pharmacy in your state and the state where it is based.
- Have a state-licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions.
Problems with Counterfeit Drugs
There have been a number of major incidents already this year involving counterfeit drugs sold online. In February, Genentech and the FDA warned that fake Avastin cancer drug pills were on the market, which did not contain the active ingredient, bevacizumab, and were not safe or effective.
Another warning was issued by the FDA in May, warning of counterfeit Teva Adderall pills. The fake pills again did not contain the real active ingredient, but instead contained the painkillers tramadol and acetaminophen. The use of the wrong ingredients could have resulted in drug overdoses, lack of treatment, unexpected drug combinations and in some cases could be fatal.