Online Pharmacy

FDA Warns of Fraudulent or Illegal Online Pharmacies

The internet has made so many everyday tasks so much easier and, in some case, allows us to purchase items at reduced prices.  However, there are times when extreme caution should be taken when purchasing items on the internet.  One specific topic of concern is the purchase of prescription medications from online pharmacies.  These online pharmacies are appealing because they offer the medication at a reduced price, plus you don’t have to go to the pharmacy and stand in line to pick up your prescriptions.  However, the Federal Drug Administration (hereinafter “FDA”) has issued warnings regarding purchasing prescription medications from online pharmacies. 

What is the main concern regarding fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies?

The internet makes it easier for fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies to sell medicines to American consumers outside the system of federal and state safeguards that protect patients from inappropriate or unsafe medicines in America. Medicines you purchase from fraudulent online pharmacies may put your health, or the health of your family, at risk.  Connie Jung, FDA Pharmacist states that “Many online consumers may not realize that they’re buying from a fraudulent, illegal online pharmacy—and that the medicines they may receive could be counterfeit, contaminated, contain the wrong active ingredient, or not approved by FDA.”

What is the difference between medications purchased at a local drug store and medications purchased from what might be fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies?

Medicines purchased from fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies may contain no active ingredient. It is the active ingredients in medicines that are responsible for their effects.  Alternatively, the medication purchased from fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies may have too much or too little of the active ingredient or the wrong ingredient entirely. These medicines may also be contaminated with harmful substances, or be past their expiration dates.  As a result, you may not receive the medication that you actually ordered or you may experience unexpected side effects and your condition that the medication was supposed to be treating could possibly get worse.

How can I tell if pharmacy is one of many fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies?

According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), the professional organization that represents the state boards of pharmacy that are responsible for licensing pharmacies, only three percent of online websites reviewed appear to meet state and federal pharmacy laws.  This makes obvious the risk that you may be dealing with one of the many fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies.  Legitimate online pharmacies are required to practice safeguards that protect patients from inappropriate or unsafe medications, just as a local pharmacy has to do. 

It is sometimes hard to tell that a website is not trustworthy.  Many fraudulent online sellers use convincing marketing efforts and develop websites that look legitimate. Even careful consumers may be fooled. The FDA is providing information through its “BeSafeRx” campaign to help consumers identify and avoid doing business with a fraudulent or illegal online pharmacy.

What is the “BeSafeRx” campaign and how does it affect fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies?

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D., says, “Fraudulent online pharmacies often offer deep discounts. If the low prices seem too good to be true, they probably are. BeSafeRx is designed to help patients learn how to avoid these risks and safely buy medicine online.”  FDA Pharmacist Jung also warns consumers not to be tempted by the much lower prices than those charged for prescription drugs by a legitimate pharmacy. Dr. Jung warns “[t]hey are a sure sign of a fraudulent, illegal online pharmacy, and the medicines you are getting could be harmful.”

What are some red flags of fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies?

The FDA has published warnings that can alert a consumer that they may be dealing with a fraudulent or illegal online pharmacy.  Specifically, if the online pharmacies . . .

  • are located outside the United States
  • are not licensed in the United States by a state agency
  • allow you to buy medicine without a prescription or by asking you to complete an online survey instead of requiring a prescription
  • offer very low drug prices that seem too good to be true
  • send spam or unsolicited e-mail offering deep discounts on medicine
  • ship prescriptions worldwide
  • ship drugs from a foreign country

Pay close attention to the pharmacy you are dealing with when purchasing prescription medications online.  Watch for any of the above identified warning signs that you may be dealing with fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies.  This could result in serious consequences if you were to receive the wrong medication or a medication that lacks the active ingredient to treat your medical condition.

How do I know if the pharmacy is not one of the many fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies?

The FDA encourages individuals to purchase prescription medications only through online pharmacies that:

  • Require a valid prescription from a doctor or other authorized healthcare professional
  • Are licensed by the state board of pharmacy (or equivalent state agency) where the patient is located
  • Are located in the United States and provide a physical street address
  • Have a licensed pharmacist available for consultation

Medicare Pathways wants you to be informed of the dangers that can so easily cause harm to your health.  While we all like to save money, extreme caution should be used when using the internet to order your medications.  The number of fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies is on the rise.  Therefore, so is the risk of order prescriptions medications from fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies.

If you are a Medicare beneficiary, one way to avoid the possibility of using fraudulent or illegal online pharmacies is by purchasing a Prescription Drug Plan (also known as “Part D”). If prescription drug costs are a concern for you contact a Medicare Pathways Benefit Advisor by calling 1-866-466-9118.  The Benefit Advisor will review your Prescription Drug Plan options with you and find the most affordable and most appropriate Prescription Drug Plan for your needs.  You can also simply Request a Quote and a Medicare Pathways Benefit Advisor will contact you.

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Medicare Pathways:  1-866-466-9118