Health care industry experts attribute much of the increase to the easy and legal availability of prescription drugs online where anyone who can operate a mouse can purchase any number of drugs without the knowledge of their physician or guardian. Many of the companies involved ship their drugs from warehouses in Canada, China, and India where the price of medication is far lower than in the United States, an added bonus for American consumers looking to score a large supply they can then use to overdose or disseminate among eager local buyers.
The tragedy in this situation is that responsible adults who purchase drugs online after consulting with their doctors may be further enabling a dangerous trend catalyzed by easy access and technology. For example, many drugs like Lipitor, Xenical, Propecia, and a wide array of birth control pills can be purchased online but are rarely involved in overdose cases. Sleep aids and anti-anxiety medications, such as Valium, Xanax, and Oxycodone, on the other hand, are frequently used by addicts to get high or to overdose.
The Internet is notoriously difficult to regulate and no implemented system may ever be effective or comprehensive enough to combat the potential for abuse by those who purchase drugs online.
The Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit medical diagnosis and treatment center, suggests the following steps be taken by those thinking about ordering prescription drugs online:
- The first thing anyone thinking of using prescription drugs should do is to talk with their doctor. An experienced physician is always a patient’s first and last line of defense and can answer any and all questions pertaining to medication. Many consumers opt for generic drugs over brand name medications because of what is often a vast difference in cost — but only a physician will know if they will be equally effective.
- Using a licensed pharmacy is also crucial in this process. A good place of reference is the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which rates online pharmacies and keeps track of license standings. Sites which claim to be Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) are granted such status by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
- Having access to a registered pharmacist is a must. A reputable site will always have a registered pharmacist available to answer consumer questions about potential side effects of the medication being purchased.
- Be sure to read the privacy and security policy stated on the site, making sure that all patient information (health, personal, and credit card information) will be kept secret and will not be sold to any third parties.
- Comparing prices is always a smart thing to do — shopping around online can often lead to massive savings. But be sure to check with local pharmacies first. At times, their prices can beat online retailers.
- Be wary of fake or counterfeit drugs. If the website has no customer service or pharmacy phone number or email, chances are they don’t want to be asked any questions about what they are selling. This is a big warning sign. Also make sure that a street address is readily visible on the website. The most commonly counterfeited drugs are those used to treat cholesterol, weight loss, and erectile dysfunction.
- Foreign sites are often legitimate, but come with risks. Other countries apply different standards for drug approval and on occasion allow the sale of drugs deemed illegal in the United States. Also, instructions and ingredients can be printed in foreign languages, coding vital information for consumers.
- Never order medication which has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). [Doing so] often leads to dangerous and lethal consequences and is simply not worth the risk.
- Know the science: whatever ailment a patient is suffering from, they will have a working knowledge of what they need to combat their illness. Any website which claims to sell “miracle drugs” or uses vague terminology to cover up phony science should be ignored.
- Complain! If an order is lost, misplaced, or never arrives, be sure to let the company know that the consumer is aware. If mysterious credit card charges appear on statements, call and complain until it is resolved. The best companies will go out of their way to make customers happy, which keeps them honest, responsible, and consumer-oriented.