By Lynne Friedmann
Ordering products and services from Internet e-commerce sites has become a way of life for many who find online shopping easy, convenient, and economical. But consumers need to think twice when it comes to online pharmacies which, in too many cases, deliver inferior or counterfeit medications.
This is the message of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) in a report, issued July 28, on Internet drug outlets that found 96 percent of 8,000 rogue websites operate out of compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws, fuel prescription drug abuse and misuse, and provide an outlet for counterfeit medicines to enter the U.S. drug supply.
“The fake online pharmacy crisis has reached an epidemic level,” said NABP President Malcolm J. Broussard, RPh, in a press release. “This problem poses a clear danger to Americans’ health and safety and weakens the essential relationships between pharmacists and patients.”
The NABP public health alert calls upon on pharmacists, physicians, and other health professionals to educate patients about the growing public health threat posed by these illegal online enterprises. [Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program Progress Report for State and Federal Regulators: July 2011 is available at http://bit.ly/qAzc2O.]
According to the World Health Organization, one in two medicines sold over the Internet is fake. A 2008 report by the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines, a community interest organization, also noted that three in five medicines sold over the Internet are either counterfeit or substandard.
Among popular medications targeted by counterfeiters are lifestyle drugs like Viagra, but also medications for acute and chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and cancer.
Often concocted in crude, unsanitary conditions, “counterfeits are sophisticated and hard to identify,” according to John P. Clark, Pfizer’s chief security officer and vice president of Pfizer Global Security. Clark recently met, at the invitation of BIOCOM, with San Diego reporters on the topic of counterfeit medications.
Counterfeiters need repeat customers. So, in some cases fake medications might contain 10 to 20 percent of authentic ingredients.They also might contain boric acid, brick dust, and even floor wax.
“While counterfeit meds won’t poison you, realize that your disease condition isn’t being treated properly,” said Clark.
To help consumers find safe sources for purchasing medicine online safely, NABP developed the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) accreditation program. Consumers can look for the VIPPS Seal on accredited online pharmacy sites, or check NABP’s database at http://vippspharmacies.net.
If you have bought online and suddenly don’t feel right when taking your usual medication, pills taste bitter, or an injectable product produces an unusual burning sensation, suspect a counterfeit.
“Patients think ‘It’s not the product; it’s me,’” Clark said.
Consult with your pharmacist who can send the product for free testing to verify if it is legitimate.
When visiting your healthcare provider, it’s important to tell your physician not only what medications you are taking but also where you purchased them; particularly if that purchase was made online.
Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.
Red flags that signal an unsafe pharmacy website include:
— Offers to sell prescription drugs without a prescription (this is against the law)
— Does not provide a way to contact a licensed pharmacist by phone to answer questions
— Sends a “generic” for a patent-protected drug that does not have a generic version
— Sends the wrong drug or another dangerous product for a patient’s condition
— Offers products that are not FDA approved
— Offers prices that are dramatically lower than the competition