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Q: How can I tell if an online pharmacy is legitimate?
A: It has been estimated that nearly one in four Internet consumers has purchased prescription medicine online and the risk of using a fraudulent pharmacy online is high.
In view of this, the FDA recently (2012) started a BeSafeRxcampaign to help protect consumers.
The risks of fake online pharmacies are many. The drugs you receive may look real, but they could be counterfeit, contaminated, expired or otherwise unsafe. If you receive counterfeit or substandard medicines, they could keep you from getting better, make you sick or worse.
Medicine that is approved for use in the United States has been reviewed for safety and effectiveness by the FDA. Medicine that may be approved in other countries or produced by unknown sources may have slight variations or different ingredients that could cause you to get sicker, develop a resistance to your medicine or cause new side effects.
If you take more than one medication, these differences could also affect the way other medicines work or cause harmful interactions.
Most fake online pharmacies lack adequate safeguards to protect personal and financial information, and some intentionally misuse the information you provide. These sites may infect your computer with viruses or sell your personal information to other rogue websites and Internet scams.
If you buy medicine from a fake online pharmacy, you also risk being harassed by repeated emails and phone calls or being charged for products you never ordered or received.
Because of these risks, the FDA is warning consumers to beware of online pharmacies that:
+ Allow you to buy drugs without a prescription from your doctor.
+ Offer deep discounts or cheap prices that seem too good to be true.
+ Send spam or unsolicited email offering cheap drugs.
+ Are located outside of the United States.
+ Are not licensed in the United States.
Tips for identifying safe online pharmacies include:
+ Always require a doctor’s prescription.
+ Provide a physical address and telephone number in the United States.
+ Offer a pharmacist to answer your questions.
+ Have a license with your state board of pharmacy.
Fake online pharmacies can manipulate their websites to appear legitimate, so checking the pharmacy’s license through your state board of pharmacy (or equivalent state agency) is an important step to know whether you are using a safe and legal online pharmacy.
More information, including a link to your state board of pharmacy’s license database, can be found at www.FDA.gov/BeSafeRx.
Richard P. Hoffmann, Pharm.D., has been a pharmacist for more than 40 years. Send questions to him at 2960 E. Coventry Court, Hernando, FL 34442.