Ordering Medicines Online
By Tamer Abouras
Back in my college days — which grow more distant daily — I qualified for free Amazon Prime and as such, started receiving many packages in the mail. The vast majority weren’t mine, of course — my mom, who’s been an avid online shopper since the advent of the practice, began ordering everything of need or consequence that wasn’t perishable using my Amazon account, thanks to its free two-day shipping.
Naturally, as she and other Americans (and people all over the world) grew in comfort with online shopping, the buying of everyday products became more and more common. It may have started with special shampoo and hair care products, but before long food and even medicinal items became regular parts of frequent online purchases.
Although there aren’t any inherent dangers or problems associated with online shopping for your meds, the removal of a traditional pharmacist as something of a middleman does require healthcare and pharmaceutical consumers to become that much more educated about the products they’re getting when they place an order. And according to new data from Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority, that group is quite substantial in size, with over 70,000 people in that country alone having purchased medicines online.
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According to RTE News, “The authority said that while the authenticity and safety of medicines available via the internet is a concern for two-thirds of people, almost a third were surprised to learn that it is illegal to buy prescription medicines online. The survey shows that the influence of the internet as a channel of health information is significant with one in four using it to source information on medicines. The survey found that 70% of people use it to research a particular health problem, 46% research types of medicines for particular conditions and 39% use it to diagnose symptoms.”
While in the United States it is legal to buy some prescription as well as over-the-counter products online, the FDA issues several strong warnings to consumers, imploring them to be completely informed before taking anything they buy from the internet.
“There are many websites that operate legally and offer convenience, privacy, and safeguards for purchasing medicines. But there are also many “rogue websites” that offer to sell potentially dangerous drugs that have not been checked for safety or effectiveness. Though a rogue site may look professional and legitimate, it could actually be an illegal operation,” said an article covering online medicines on the FDA’s website. “These rogue sites often sell unapproved drugs, drugs that contain the wrong active ingredient, drugs that may contain too much or too little of the active ingredient, or drugs that contain dangerous ingredients.”
The FDA also offers a handy list of things to consider any time you get a prescription refilled:
· Check the physical appearance of the medicine (color, texture, shape, and packaging)
· Check to see if it smells and tastes the same when you use it
· Alert your pharmacist or whoever is providing treatment to anything that is different
Be aware that some drugs sold online:
· Are too old, too strong, or too weak
· Aren’t FDA-approved
· Aren’t made using safe standards
· Aren’t safe to use with other medicines or products
· Aren’t labeled, stored, or shipped correctly
· May be counterfeit
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They also provide information on how best to protect yourself when purchasing medicines online:
· Only buy from state-licensed pharmacy websites located in the U.S.
· Don't buy from websites that sell prescription drugs without a prescription
· Don't buy from websites that offer to prescribe a drug for the first time without a physical exam by your doctor or by answering an online questionnaire
· Check with your state board of pharmacy or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to see if an online pharmacy has a valid pharmacy license and meets state quality standards
· Look for privacy and security policies that are easy to find and easy to understand
· Don't give any personal information—such as a social security number, credit card information, or medical or health history—unless you are sure the website will keep your information safe and private
· Use legitimate websites that have a licensed pharmacist to answer your question
· Make sure that the website will not sell your personal information, unless you agree
So, this can be directed to my mom as much as anyone else: when buying your medicines online, proceed with caution!