Beware Rogue Online Pharmacies, FDA Says

Shopping online is the way of the world these days, but not all e-commerce transactions are created equal. Buying a sauté pan on Amazon? Not a risky venture. Buying antibiotics from an online pharmacy that didn’t ask for a prescription? You’re asking for trouble.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to people who buy their prescription dugs online: buyer beware. Many online pharmacies are fake, the agency says, selling medications that may make you sick.

“Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by FDA, or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients,” FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, said in a news release. “Fraudulent and illegal online pharmacies often offer deeply discounted products.”

Bottom line: if prices for prescription meds sound too good to be true, they probably are.

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Almost 25 percent of people who shop on the Internet have bought prescription drugs online, the FDA says. And 30 percent of those people said they weren’t sure about how to safely purchase medication that way.

They’ll need to come up to speed quickly, since the National Association of Board of Pharmacy says that less than 3 percent of online pharmacies are in line with federal and state laws.

While the FDA didn’t say if online prescription drug shopping has increased, some other recent statistics may shed some light on the issue. A recent study in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience found that a record 4.02 billion prescriptions were written in 2011, up from 3.99 billion in 2010.

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But Americans are having more trouble paying for those drugs. Consumer Reports said recently that a struggling economy is forcing more Americans to cut back on healthcare needs, including skimping on medications.

Along with the warning the FDA launched its BeSafeRx—Know Your Online Pharmacy campaign, which offers information on the dangers of buying medication from a fake online pharmacy, and how to tell a reputable business from a shady one.

Some tips: a legit pharmacy will ask for a valid medical prescription from a doctor or other healthcare professional, a licensed pharmacist will be available for questions, and it will be licensed by the state board of pharmacy.

Have you bought prescription drugs from an online pharmacy? Let us know in the comments.

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Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine |