As drug prices continue to rise, many Medicare beneficiaries are turning to the Internet to find cheaper drugs at online pharmacies. It may be tempting to use an online pharmacy, especially one of the many “Canadian online pharmacies,” but drugs purchased from these sites often come with some big risks.
Rogue websites are all over the Internet selling drugs that may be counterfeit, contaminated, or otherwise unsafe. In addition, about 16 percent of Internet drug outlets do not have secure sites, which means your personal and financial information could be at risk if you place an online order. In a nutshell, when you buy from an online pharmacy, it’s just like choosing the mystery meat in the cafeteria: You never know what you’re getting.
According to the a 2012 Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program Progress Report from the National Association of the Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), 97 percent of the more than 10,000 websites they reviewed are operating out of compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws. Many of these so-called pharmacies are unlicensed, operating illegally, or operating from foreign countries where drugs shipped to the U.S. are unregulated. If you buy from one of these online pharmacies, you run a high risk of receiving drugs that may be:
• Improperly stored and shipped (and thus, may not be as effective)
O Canada! That website might not be what it seems
Lots of seniors I talk to tell me they get their drugs from a Canadian online pharmacy because of the cheaper prices. The problem is, although it may call itself a “Canadian pharmacy,” it may actually get its drugs from countries in Asia, South America, or Eastern Europe, where quality standards are less stringent and counterfeit drugs more widespread.
Beware of an online pharmacy that shows these signs of being fake
Fake online pharmacies can manipulate their websites to appear legitimate, so if you still insist on getting your drugs this way, make sure you avoid any online pharmacy that:
• Lets you buy drugs without a prescription from your doctor
• Offers cheap prices that seem too good to be true
• Sends spam or unsolicited email offering cheap drugs
• Is located outside of the United States
• Is not licensed in the United States
Look for these signs of a safe online pharmacy:
• Always requires a doctor’s prescription.
• Provides a physical address and telephone number in the United States.
• Offers a pharmacist to answer your questions.
• Has a license with your state board of pharmacy. Check here find out.
An easy way to find accredited online pharmacies
To help you make an informed choice, NABP reviews thousands of websites to determine if they maintain safe pharmacy practices. NABP recommends using sites accredited through the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) program. Look for the VIPPS seal, which is a symbol of a pharmacy’s commitment to its patients’ health and safety. Currently, only 50 sites, or about 3% of the online pharmacies NABP has reviewed, have received accreditation.
You can also check out this list of Internet drug outlets that appear to be out of compliance with state and federal laws or NABP patient safety and pharmacy practice standards.