September 28, 2012 — In response to a growing epidemic of illicit online pharmacies selling dangerous drugs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is attempting to raise public awareness by creating a new website — BeSafeRx (http://www.fda.gov/BeSafeRx).
The website helps people understand the risks of purchasing from an unlicensed online pharmacy, tips on how to identify unsafe pharmacies, and a database to look up licensed pharmacies in your state.
The FDA is concerned that many online pharmacies evade U.S. regulations and licensing requirements because they are located outside the U.S. These pharmacies may sell drugs that are counterfeit, contaminated, expired, contain no active ingredients, or contain the wrong amount of active ingredients. People who use these drugs could potentially suffer a severe, life-threatening adverse event.
The National Association of Board of Pharmacy, which regulates the licensing of pharmacies in the United States, found that just 3% of online pharmacies conformed to state and federal government regulations. They found deceptive marketing tactics were often used to make the online pharmacy appear legitimate, which would be difficult for a consumer to judge.
The FDA conducted a survey of internet users and found that 29% didn’t know how to identify a safe online pharmacy, but 20% intended to buy medications online.
Clearly, the biggest danger is that an online pharmacy could be selling dangerous medications. A customer might purchase a drug that does not work, causes an illness to worsen, interacts with another medication, or causes a fatal complication.
The FDA offered the following tips to identify a dangerous online pharmacy. Beware pharmacies that:
- Allow you to purchase a prescription medication without a prescription
- Offers “too good to be true” prices or deep discounts
- Sends unsolicited emails or span advertising drugs
- Are located outside the United States
- Do not have a license in the United States
The FDA also warns about the risk of identity theft from online pharmacies. Nefarious websites lack safeguards to protect credit card information, home address, and telephone numbers, and they might sell this information to third-party advertisers. Customers could be harassed with repeated spam emails, phone calls, or illicit charges to their credit card for items that were never purchaser nor received.
Not all online pharmacies are dangerous. Safe pharmacies should be located in the U.S., with a U.S. address and telephone number, have a license to operate in your state, require a prescription from a doctor, and offer a licensed pharmacist to answer any questions from their customers.