Prescription drugs purchased via the Internet, though more convenient, may put the buyer's health at risk, an expert at The University of Texas at Austin warns.
"There's a big problem with rogue Web sites," says Dr. Marv Shepherd, the Klinck Centennial Professor in the College of Pharmacy and director of the Center for Pharmoeconomic Studies at the university.
"It's very difficult to determine whether a Web site represents an authentic pharmacy or a counterfeit drug pharmacy. You can't tell the good guys from the bad guys," adds Shepherd, whose research and expertise on drug importation and drug counterfeiting has been featured on CNN, NPR and in Newsweek, Time, U.S. News and World Report, the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today, among others.
Shepherd reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) surveyed Canadian pharmacy Web sites, and found 11,000 Web sites claiming to be Canadian sites selling pharmaceuticals.
However, according to the researcher, closer analysis revealed that only 214 pharmacies in Canada sell pharmaceuticals over the Web.
As regards the other 10,000-plus sites, he said that they included website in Pakistan, Southeast Asia, Mexico and even Washington State.
He warned that consumer ordering pharmaceuticals from them might receive counterfeit drugs with incorrect dosage, false labeling, no pharmaceutical benefit or worse.
"For many counterfeit products, it is difficult to distinguish the genuine product from the counterfeit product without a forensic test. They may have the brand name on them, but they aren't the brand name product," Shepherd says.
He says that people can avoid the risk by confirming if a pharmacy is licensed in the state, by checking the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) for links to their state board.
He says that people can also look for the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites seal on the site. By clicking on the seal, he adds, a visitor is linked to a site where information about the pharmacy is maintained by the NABP.