Report Finds Most Online Pharmacies Are Illegal – Here’s How To Protect Yourself
Simply put, online pharmacies are Internet-based vendors of prescription drugs, and part of an industry that has been growing at a rapid pace for years.
Some enjoy the convenience, but many are just looking for the best price because they are paying out-of-pocket or their insurer won’t cover it. Prescription costs have been increasing dramatically in the U.S., and many consumers are aimed at saving money on their prescription drugs. According to the IMS Institute, in 2014, Americans spent more than $374 billion on medication.
And because they can serve a large clientele from one central location, online pharmacies often can sell medications at a lower price than traditional, brick-and-mortar pharmacies. And due to price limitations, foreign online pharmacies can frequently sell them for even less.
In many cases, foreign online pharmacies can sell drugs for even less than domestic ones. Price caps that many countries place on drugs help drive down the costs.
Many people who turn to online pharmacies are looking to buy prescription drugs for legitimate reasons. However, as it turns out, the vast majority of online pharmacies are actually not legit.
According to a National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) report, as of October 2016, nearly 96% of the more than 11,000 online pharmacies or drug outlets they investigated were illegal.
There are obvious concerns about purchasing medication from an online, illegal drug outlet. The drugs could be expired, mislabeled, or straight up fake. It could contain other harmful ingredients, or it may not have been stored, handled, or shipping properly.
Consuming a questionable drug could land you in the hospital – or worse. Also, phony online pharmacies are an effective means to scam and steal sensitive financial information.
How To Protect Yourself
If you really must purchase medication on line, look for the following warnings signs beforehand:
#1: There is no address and/or no phone number listed for a physical location.
NABP determined that nearly two-thirds of the illegal websites lacked basic contact information. It goes without saying that this is a huge red flag, and this information is often omitted because the company is engaged in illegal and fraudulent activity.
#2: The business doesn’t actually have pharmacists accessible to patients.
Just because a pharmacy is online doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t uphold certain standards. Pharmacies must make their pharmacists available to consult and answer questions. Most often, illegal operations do not have contact information listed for pharmacists, and the best you get is a customer service that is routed to a call center.
#3: The site doesn’t ask for a prescription.
This should be obvious. If they do not require a prescription before the medication is dispensed and shipped, it’s illegal. If you are ordering non-prescription drugs, check to make sure that they do require prescriptions for the appropriate medication.
#4: The site doesn’t encrypt your data.
If there’s no encryption, neither your medical nor your financial information are safe. The site itself could be scamming you, or your information may be privy to identity theft.
To determine if a site is encrypted, you will see an icon, such as a padlock in the address bar. Conversely, they may be accredited by a legitimate internet security source.
#5: The company isn’t U.S.-based.
For safety and security reasons, the pharmacy you use should be registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency and your state’s board of pharmacy.
Using a pharmacy not based in the U.S. means that it could be hard to get help if you get scammed, or something illicit occurs. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration has no authority to regulate foreign medication bought online, and may not have even approved the drugs.
Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that any foreign agency has, either.
Despite the fact that it is illegal to import drugs from abroad, even for legitimate purposes, many Americans have turned to other counties such as Canada. Like many other nations, the Canadian government has strict limitations on drug prices, much more so than our own.
Making It Easy
If you do wish to buy prescription drugs online, you can easily reference NABP’s AWARxE Prescription Drug Safety website to ensure the drug outlet is both safe and legitimate before placing an order. They even include a list of recommended pharmacies.
You should not order prescription drugs from sites that have not been reviewed and approved by NABP.
These sites should have Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS or Vet-VIPPS) accreditation, or end with a .pharmacy domain name (those who are able to obtain the .pharmacy domain are screened for compliance.)
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology