Online Pharmacies – Buyer Beware or Great Deal?

by TheWritingCowboy

Online pharmacies may be a less expensive alternative but are they safe? Should you purchase from a pharmacy you've never heard of?

When it comes to prescription drug prices many consumers are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Sure we want safe and effective drugs, but those in the U.S. some of these drugs will burn a whole in your pocket book faster than acid reflux will burn a whole in your stomach.
Who doesn’t want to get their prescriptions at discount prices? Drug company profits are soaring and the people who pay for their medications – either directly or through their insurance coverage – are feeling like they are being taken for a ride, particularly when they hear how the same drug they are taking cost less if you live in another country.

Drug Costs Still Rising

For many people medical costs for drugs they need are a burden. Even with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the U.S., some drug costs are either expensive or not available.

Into the fray in recent years have come Internet-based pharmacies. Located in any number of countries these pharmacies say they offer good service, quick response and typically lower prices than your corner drugstore or health insurer.

However, according to a recent study (2013) by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), while online pharmacies may offer convenience and lower prices, the chances are that many of these businesses are nothing more than scams. “Many Internet pharmacies are fraudulent enterprises,” according to the report. That caution, often issued by the government, however, doesn’t seem to stop people from seeking lower drug costs outside the U.S.

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One In Four Adults Buy Drugs Online

The GAO report found that 25 percent of adults in the U.S. purchase their drugs online. While many of those find the purchasing process acceptable, the GAO says there are a number of cases where the drugs are provided without a prescription and the online pharmacy is not even licensed to sell drugs. Further, many of the drugs sold are expired, improperly labeled or even counterfeit (e.g. they aren’t, in fact, what they claim to be). And, what the GAO called “rogue Internet pharmacies” routinely violates both federal and state laws. But, although the government says they are going to crack down on these scofflaws, so far that doesn’t seem to be happening. Maybe it’s because the government doesn’t want to be seen busting granny who has to choose between lower cost drugs and food.

Many of the ‘rogue’ Internet pharmacies operate in foreign countries, making it difficult for U.S. regulators and law enforcement agencies to act. Even though the prescriptions are shipped into the U.S. the government has found it difficult to find and/or stop the shipments.

According to the GAO, “rogue Internet pharmacy operations can be difficult because they may be composed of thousands of related websites, and operators take steps to disguise their identities.”

Pursuing Rogue Pharmacies

In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) launched a campaign to try and thwart illegal online pharmacy activities. Taking action against more than 4,000 online pharmacies the agency was able to shutdown more than 18,000 illegal pharmacy websites and the seizure of about $10.5 million worth of pharmaceuticals worldwide (some critics say the enforcement is minimal and the $10 million worth of drugs seized is a drop in the bucket and unlikely to deter illegal online sites).

Yet, the problem persists and it’s not likely to go away soon. While legitimate sites operated by well known and licensed pharmacies are convenient, and registered online pharmacies are usually safe, there are many pharmacies that operate only online and are questionable at best.

The Mayo Clinic recommends consumers take several precautions, such as consulting your physician before purchasing at an unfamiliar online site; making sure the pharmacy is licensed (The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy maintains listings of online pharmacies that are in good standing); check if the site has a registered pharmacist who can answer your questions either by phone, email, or online chat); and don’t use any medications you receive that might have broken seals, odd packaging, or don’t contain what you ordered.

With all those precautions there is still a robust business with foreign pharmacies that operate online or over the phone. Canada is a major source for such products. But, even Canada may import their drugs from other countries.

Getting a good price for your prescriptions is a necessity for many people. For others it’s a matter of feeling you are not overpaying for a drug that consumers elsewhere get for less. But, the proliferation of online sales of various medications – even Pfizer sells its highly profitable Viagra online – means consumers have to be careful. Will that end the online, overseas prescription drug providers? Not likely.


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Updated: 08/19/2014, TheWritingCowboy
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CruiseReady on 09/02/2015

Sometimes, the choice of where to buy is taken away from you by your insurance carrier. When it comes to my husband's diabetic supplies, his insurance will ONLY pay if we get them by mail order. I am NOT a fan of forced anything, but this particularly riles me. I have a pharmacy less than a half mile away, staffed by a pharmacist we know and trust, and who is very familiar with my husbands health issues. But, can I run down to the pharmacy and pick up supplies WHEN I need them from someone I KNOW and TRUST? No! I must wait until some unnamed entity in some mysterious location sends them through the mail, and HOPE that they arrive in a timely manner. What utter hogwash, all in the name of outside CONTROL of life saving supplies.

Telesto on 08/20/2014

Very valid points and good advice.

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