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FDA ratchets up fight against illegal online pharmacies

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently launched a national campaign to raise public awareness about the prevalence of fraudulent Internet pharmacies.

"BeSafeRx - Know Your Online Pharmacy" provides resources for patients and caregivers who are inclined to purchase medication online. It is imperative that consumers know from whom they are buying, and that the medication they buy is exactly what their doctor prescribed.

Nearly one in four Internet consumers have purchased prescription medicine online, according to a new FDA survey. At the same time, nearly 30 percent said they lacked confidence about how to make safe online purchases. The risk of purchasing from a rogue seller is high.

Personnel with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) report that less than 3 percent of online pharmacies meet state and federal laws or meet accepted standards of practice.

"Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by FDA or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD. "Fraudulent and illegal online pharmacies often offer deeply discounted products. If the low prices seem too good to be true, they probably are. The FDA's 'BeSafeRx' campaign is designed to help patients learn how to avoid these risks."

According to the NABP, fraudulent online pharmacies use sophisticated marketing efforts and phony web storefronts to appear legitimate to give the impression the products come from countries with high safety standards. In fact, the opposite is sometimes true. The drugs offered may have been produced under substandard conditions.

Patients who buy medicines from these websites may be putting their health at risk. Often, the products may contain the wrong ingredients; contain too little, too much or no active ingredient at all; or be made with other harmful ingredients. These websites often sell unapproved versions of medicines used in the United States.

"There are thousands of fake pharmacies on the Internet selling counterfeit, expired, contaminated, or otherwise unsafe drugs," Hamburg said. "Some of these websites look so sophisticated that even a careful consumer can fall victim to a fake pharmacy scam."

Patients should only buy prescription medicine through online pharmacies that:

• Require a valid prescription from a doctor or other health care professional;

• Are located in the United States;

• Have a licensed pharmacist available for consultation; and

• Are licensed by the patient's state board of pharmacy.

The BeSafeRx campaign website, www.FDA.gov/BeSafeRx, provides consumers with the tools and resources they need to safely purchase prescription medicine online. The site features information about the risks of buying from fake online pharmacies; ways to identify a safe, legal online pharmacy; and tools for health care professionals
Before buying medicine online, consumers are urged to check first to ensure they are using a safe, legal online pharmacy.

For more information, visit www.FDA.gov/BeSafeRx or call 1-888-463-6332.