Buying Medicines and Medical Products on Line

How can consumers tell which sites are legitimate, especially when there are hundreds of drug-dispensing and medical product websites on the internet? Today it is easier than ever to set up a website that is very professional looking and promises deep discounts.

When you buy drugs or medical products on line, you should be aware of the following dangers:

When you order a prescription drug on line by filling out a questionnaire and not seeing a doctor first, you are at serious health risks. A simple questionnaire does not provide enough information for the doctor to determine if a particular drug is safe for you to use. Sometimes another treatment is more appropriate for you. You may also have an underlying and serious medical condition that the drug prescribed would aggravate and prove to be dangerous and even deadly. The American Medical Association has determined that this on line medical practice is at best substandard medical care. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also agrees.

There are many health product claims found on the various internet sites. Some even claim cures for Alzheimer’s and HIV/AIDS. Drug and health product claims found on the internet often provide hope for those suffering from painful or debilitating diseases. These turn out to be false claims and lead to false hopes. These claims are fraudulent, illegal and the cause of recent government enforcement actions against the companies that make them.

Federal and state organizations have united to wage war against this on line menace of Internet health fraud. There is currently an effort called Operation Cure All to crack down on the unscrupulous marketers who use the internet to prey on the sickest, oldest and most vulnerable of our citizens. If you find a website you think is illegally selling human drugs, animal drugs, medical devices, biological products, foods, dietary supplements, or cosmetics over the internet, then use the complaint form located at: www.fda.gov/oc/buyonline/buyonlineform.htm.

What are some of the claims and practices to be most suspicious of? The FTC and FDA advise consumers to be suspicious of the following:

* Claims that the product is “natural” or “non-toxic,” suggesting it does not have side effects. “Natural” or “non-toxic” does not necessarily mean safe. Some “natural” supplements contain potent stimulants; others can result in negative interactions with medicines.
* Testimonials from people who claim amazing results. Testimonials often are undocumented and are not a substitute for scientific proof.
* Claims that a product is a “scientific break though,” “miraculous cure,” “secret ingredient” or “ancient remedy.”
* Claims that the product is an effective cure for a wide range of ailments.
* Claims that use impressive-sounding medical terms.
* Claims that the product is available from only one source, and payment is required in advance.
* Claims of a “money-back” guarantee.
* Web sites that fail to list the company’s name, physical address, phone number or other contact information.

So if you still decide to buy your medicines on line, what then are the guidelines that will serve to protect you?

* Meet and talk with your doctor and have a physical exam before you purchase any new medicine for the first time.
* Use only medicine that has been prescribed by your doctor or another trusted professional who is licensed in the U.S. to write prescriptions for medicine.
* Ask your doctor if there are any special steps you need to take to fill your prescription.

These tips will help protect you if you do buy your medicine on line:

Know your source to make sure it’s safe

Make sure a website is a U.S. state-licensed pharmacy. Pharmacies and pharmacists in the United States are licensed by a state’s board of pharmacy. Your state board of pharmacy can tell you if a website is a state-licensed pharmacy and is in good standing. Find a list of state boards of pharmacy on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) website at www.nabp.info.

The NABP is a professional association of the state boards of pharmacy. It has a program to help you find some of the pharmacies that are licensed to sell medicine on line. Internet websites that display the seal of this program have been checked to make sure they meet state and federal rules. For more on this program and a list of pharmacies that display the Verified Internet Pharmacy Sites Seal, (VIPPS Seal), go to www.vipps.info.

You should look for websites that protect you. A safe website should be licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the website is operating (check www.nabp.info for a list of state boards of pharmacy) The website should have a licensed pharmacist to answer your questions. The website should also require a prescription from your doctor or other health care professional who is licensed in the United States to write prescriptions for medicine. The website should have some way for you to talk to a person if you have a problem.

Buying your medicine on line can be easy. Just make sure you do it safely. Don’t give out any personal information (such as your social security number, credit card, or medical or health history), unless you are sure the website will keep your information safe and private. Also make sure the website doesn’t sell your information, unless you agree.

For more information on buying medicines and medical products over the internet, go to www.fda.gov and click on “Buying Medicines On line,” or go directly to www.fda.gov/buyonline .

For related information, go to:

Imported medicines www.fda.gov/importeddrugs
Counterfeit medicine www.fda.gov/counterfeit
Generic drugs www.fda.gov/cder/ogd

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