A new report from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) should serve as a wake-up call to consumers searching for and buying their medications online. Illegal online drug sellers are the most frequent conduits of counterfeit drugs and pose a continued threat to global public health, the report titled Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program Progress Report for State and Federal Regulators finds. In addition, many of these rogue online sellers are distributing controlled substances. When people receive these drugs without appropriate medical care, they face a high risk for abuse and addiction. As an example, consumers looking to purchase Viagra from an unapproved online seller may receive a box in the mail that looks like the genuine Viagra packaging, but inside are pills containing who knows what. According to a warning on the NABP site, counterfeit medications can be deadly. They may contain too much or too little or the wrong medication and may even be laced with dangerous ingredients such as rat poison.
Efforts to Combat Counterfeit Drugs
In 2013, pharmaceutical and healthcare products were one of the top five categories of counterfeit goods seized by U.S. officials. Many of these shipments were tied to illegal online drug sellers. The NABP report includes an overview of testimony presented at a congressional hearing in February. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a three-pronged approach to help protect consumers will focus on “public education, demand reduction and global collaboration.” In addition, the NABP and its member state boards of pharmacy will continue to work with and encourage federal regulators as well as other public and private entities to educate the public about the risks and dangers of unapproved drugs as well as other risks associated with buying drugs and medications from illegal online drug sellers. The NABP report details findings on the more than 10,750 Internet drug outlets. Nearly 97 percent of the reviewed sites are operating out of compliance with United States pharmacy laws and practice standards and those of many other developed countries. As a consequence, they are listed as “not recommended” on the NABP consumer protection website. Characteristics of the 10,392 Internet drug outlets shown as “not recommended” are as follows:
- 9,164 (88 percent) do not require a valid prescription
- 1,254 (12 percent) dispense controlled substances
- 5,102 (49 percent) offer foreign or non-FDA-approved drugs
- 2,426 (23 percent) have a physical address outside of the U.S. and most (62 percent) rogue sites post no address
- 1,668 (16 percent) lack secure websites, thus exposing customers to identity theft and financial fraud
The full report with detailed findings on rogue website characteristics is available at the AWARErx site.
Find Safe Sources to Purchase Medicine Online
The Internet can be a helpful and easy way to purchase prescription medications, as long as consumers use caution and take heed of the advice to look for the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) Seal on an accredited site. For pet medications ordered online, look for a pharmacy accredited by the NABP Vet-VIPPS (Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) program. Also, check the NABP’s list of accredited sites on its consumer protection website.