But scams abound that can endanger your health.
Online pharmacies can save you money, but you need to be cautious and smart.
From 2 to 5 million Americans use online pharmacies to buy their prescription drugs, most safely. “Online pharmacies can sell drugs cheaper because they can serve a large clientele from one central location and cut out the cost of a network of local pharmacies,” according to nerdwallet.
“In the case of foreign online pharmacies, drug costs in other countries are cheaper, so the potential for savings is even greater.” Even simple comparison shopping can save you money.
There are many legitimate pharmacies online, some with contracts through health insurers that are designed to save you money.
There are many rogue pharmacies online, however, that push a variety of drugs for rock bottom prices to unsuspecting consumers who could be endangering their health.
Drugs available without consulting a doctor or a prescription can include a wide variety for pain, convulsive disorders, and ADHD, and generic brands for drugs popular in the U.S., that actually have no generic equivalent, says Consumer Reports.
Sometimes, the drugs imported by consumers seem to be coming from Canada, but in fact they are made in far-flung countries such as India and other Asian countries. Such drugs have no assurance of safety and effectiveness and could be dangerous.
The widely used online search engine Google even filed suit in 2010 against advertisers who were clearly violating Google’s advertising policy.
"Like many online services, we have struggled with this problem for years," the company blogged. "It's been an ongoing, escalating cat-and-mouse game — as we and others build new safeguards and guidelines, rogue online pharmacies always try new tactics to get around those protections and illegally sell drugs on the Web.”
In 2010, Google said it had seen a “marked” increase in rogue pharmacies and an increasing “sophistication” in their methods to come across as legitimate. Even when Google put extensive verification procedures in place that included automated keyword blocking, a “small percentage” of rogue companies still crept through and onto its sponsored pages.
Recently, the consumer watchdog Consumer Reports looked into online pharmacies (in cooperation with a San Francisco ABC television affiliate), and warned that, despite government and private sector efforts, bad drugs are still easy to buy.
"Pharmacies that pretend to operate out of Canada or other countries often sell drugs that are unapproved or even counterfeit,” a Consumer Reports spokesperson said. “(A) big problem with that is that some of these drugs have been found to contain dangerous substances like toxic paint or even rat poison.”
In 2105, the Food and Drug Administration went after more than 1,000 online drug sites, but new ones pop up like daisies to take their place.
A survey of 11,000 online pharmacies by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) found that only about 4 percent were operating according to U.S. pharmacy laws and practice standards.
A little diligence, however, can go a long way toward buying safe and effective drugs online, many with savings.
The NABP says you should always look for the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) seal on an accredited website and double check that against the association’s list of accredited sites.
The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), which is sponsored by 13 companies including Google and Microsoft, says you should also check out online pharmacy sites using its LegitScript Pharmacy Verification Tool.
You can further educate yourself on the potential dangers of illegitimate online pharmacies through the SafeMedsOnline campaign run by CSIP and the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies.
The CSIP website includes vetted resources, reports, frequent updates, and other consumer education information that makes it much easier to know that the source of your prescription drugs is safe.
Everyone wants to save money on prescription drugs. It’s understandable, given their sometimes astronomical prices. But you can pay a terrible price by endangering your health if you don’t know the drugs you’re buying are completely safe.
January 20, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN