Buying Prescription Drugs From Online Pharmacies: Don’t Take the Risk

You see the ads everywhere, in your email box or in the newspaper or even in a flyer stuffed in your mailbox, all offering prescription drugs at a “low rate” if you’d just log on to their website and ask. But should you really put your life in the hands of an invisible entity?

First, let’s take a look at these websites. While most of them claim to be based in Canada and therefore offering Canadian equivalents of the American FDA-approved drugs many have been tracked back to foreign countries far, far away from Canada and the United States. These online pharmacies offer no promises other than the ability to deliver drugs to you for cold, hard cash. While the name of the site may sound Canadian and therefore offer the image of safety with a familiar country there is no law, national or international, that demands that the website’s name be honest about their location. So that online pharmacy at may not be located anywhere in North America. Your cheap drugs may be coming from anywhere in the world. And if you balk at buying foreign products at your local WalMart due to questions about their quality, why would you place your trust in a website that can’t be located?

But it’s convenient and cheap, the advertising says. After all, why not save a few dollars by punching in your request at an online pharmacy and have the drugs delivered straight to your door? Well, let’s explore the relationship between you and your pharmacist.

I take Corzide for high blood pressure and Lipitor for lowering my cholesterol. If I have any questions about side effects or am curious about drug interaction I can walk into my neighborhood pharmacy and talk to my pharmacist or his assistant who can deliver the answers right there. They know my family history and know my medical history. If I’m suffering a reaction to a medication they can offer some sort of help along with my family doctor.

But if I buy my drugs online I cut myself off of that medical assistance. If I’m feeling weak or sick I can’t just punch in my symptoms at the online pharmacy and ask for help. I’m nothing more to them than a number and a wallet to be emptied for cold hard cash. And if I suffer a negative reaction from any medication ordered at an online pharmacy, the medical personnel trying to assist me have no idea what I’ve really taken, thanks to the lack of medical paperwork. Maybe the Internet site sent me the wrong dosage, or maybe the wrong drug. Online pharmacies don’t answer to anyone after they send out the drugs and can’t offer any assistance if I have any questions or concerns. If I’m being rushed to the hospital with a drug overdose the medical personnel will have to wait for an analysis of the drugs in those nondescript bottles before trying to treat me. And that’s a risk I’m not willing to take to save a few dollars.

Whether you deal with a local small pharmacy or a larger megachain pharmacy you still have that personal contact that enables you to verify the quality of the drug in your hand and to access the pharmacist for assistance and information. Even if you find these links on an online pharmacy site you may still end up with some mystery pills in your hand, looking perhaps a bit like those you took last week but not exactly. And do you want to really risk your life on that?

But wait, you say – Canadian drugs from a Canadian doctor are exactly the same. And why not save a few dollars if you know the online pharmacy website is Canadian and therefore the drugs are just as good?

Because there’s no way to guarantee the quality of these pills in those bottles. Being Canadian myself I’ve considered ordering my Lipitor and Corzide from these sites, but always return to my local pharmacist. Why? Because I can’t verify that those pills, even if they are from my home country, are really what they appear. For all I know they’re made of sugar rolled up with baking powder and enough saliva to hold them together in the same shape as my Lipitor or my Corzide. The technology to duplicate medicine isn’t new; ask any drug dealer who cuts their cocaine with sugar or any crack addict who ends up ingesting some lethal substance because the dealer wants to make more money with less pure drug in the product. We’ve already had cases in the United States where trusted pharmacists have been caught substituting one drug for another or cutting the quality of the product resulting in near-death experiences or, at the least, a decreased quality of life for those who count on these drugs to stay alive. At least I have a face to put to the distributor of my Lipitor and Corzide. If I purchased my drugs via an online pharmacy I’d have no one to blame and would have a hard time discovering who was at fault if my prescription drugs weren’t what they were supposed to be.

While these sites may project the image of providing a great service to those who may not be able to afford their medication, it’s a risk few can really afford to take. These online pharmacies aren’t in it to do you a favor; they’re in it for the cash. And whether or not you receive the drugs that you wanted or needed is irrelevant as long as your bank account delivers the cash. There’s no doctor to discuss possible side effects; there’s no pharmacist to ask if this medication will react with something else you may be already taking. Your online pharmacy won’t be able to deal with an emergency if you need a prescription filled at the last minute or be able to deal with you as a person instead of an invisible entity.

The Internet has proven itself to be a valuable resource for a variety of things, from the selling power of auction sites like eBay to informational sites like Wikepedia and entertainment websites like Napster. But to rely on an online pharmacy to deliver quality pharmaceutical products to you on a regular basis just isn’t smart. Whatever money you save you might end up leaving to your children for your long hospital stay after receiving a bad or fake dose of medication or worse yet – help pay for your funeral. I know I’d rather take the extra time, trouble and expense to create and maintain a relationship with a real human being rather than leave my health care to an anonymous invisible computer screen. I know that’s my decision; what’s your?

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