97% of Online Pharmacies Unsafe - How to know if a website is genuine?

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97% of Online Pharmacies Unsafe - How to know if a website is genuine?

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The most common monetary problem that majority of Americans face is incapacity to bear their monthly expenditure for medicines. This was the data collected by Consumer Reports National Research Centre in one of their monthly national poll.

Undeniably, medicines cost twice as much as it does in US than in the other parts of the world. Many patients are now turning to websites to get a better bargain and a discounted price from countries like Canada.

But a recent analysis showed that online customers should be on their guard because ONLY A FRACTION OF PHARMACIES OPERATING ONLINE ARE GENUINE OR LEGITIMATE.

Medical consultants have also been warning us about the prevailing risks and have suggested that ordering from many foreign online websites should be avoided in totality.

Unregulated Pharmacy Menace

More than 8300 online pharmacies were scrutinized by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy in July 2011. NABP, the organization that represents state pharmacy boards across the US and also approves and authorizes online drug stores had found that only 3-4% of the online pharmacies were genuine and their products were of first class quality. The rest were found to be running “good for nothing” operations.

If we get into more details, then NABP had found:
- 6812 online pharmacies (nearly 85%) done ask for a valid prescription from the customer’s doctor.
- 3687 online pharmas sell foreign drugs that are not approved by the FDA
- 2100 were found to possess a physical address outside of the US
- 2878 had their servers located in foreign land

Problem with foreign Online Pharmacy Websites

The main issue with those websites that sell drugs and medications from other countries is that there is nothing much that can be done in order to ensure that they are safe or genuine.

Authority is not given to the FDA to control and supervise the foreign make of the medicines that are bought by people over the internet. So, one cannot be sure of the quality of the ingredients used in it.

There are also chances that the drugs have not been approved by FDA just like the generic versions of drugs that are still not legalized in the US. In worst case scenario, even the foreign regulatory agencies may not have given thumbs up to the medicines either.

About Online Canadian Pharmacies

There are many who wrongly assume that they have ensured their safety while buying drugs by ordering it specifically from the Canadian websites. But they might want to reconsider doing that because “most of the so called Canadian sites aren’t Canadian at all in the first place”, says Carmen Catizone, NABP’S executive director.
On the other hand, there are indeed legal online Canadian pharmacies regulated by Health Canada, a government agency that runs in Canada similar to the FDA in the US. But still, such Canadian pharmacies are not subject to Canadian regulatory authority for shipping prescription medication to the US as per U.S, Department of Justice.

A spokesperson for Heath Canada denied making an assessment of the risks that these websites cause to the Americans but he did mention about the Canadian government’s warnings to its own citizens about the risk of buying drugs and medications online.

Illisa Bernstein, who holds the position of FDA’s deputy director at the Office of Compliance, has also asked the buyers to be cautious of what they buy online.

According to her, purchasing medicines online for a cheaper cost is equivalent to compromising on the quality of the medicines and ending up with a substandard or feigned version of the same. She also stated that there were pharmacies in the US run online and doing legitimate business abiding by the federal and the state laws of the U.S.

Research Studies on Online Pharmacies

A recent study was carried out where the researchers ordered different types of medications with different brand names through various online pharmacies out of which a few were thought to be genuine and a few others not.

152 drugs were received and it was found that 3 orders of sildenafil (Viagra) did not pass the testing because it was counterfeit. Then there were another 31 orders that were not filled with the drugs that were written in the prescription either in dosage or by type.

It was also found that a few online pharmacies had replaced the brand name medications like Nexium and Lipitor with other drugs that were its generic versions that have not yet been officially approved by the FDA. This study was published in the PLoS One journal in order to create awareness among the masses about the dangers in ordering medications online.

An industry funded group by the name European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines conducted another study in the year 2008 where they ordered drugs from 116 different websites. A few websites that were already their suspect, like the ones who claimed to provide cheap medications were included in this list. The results of this study were as follows:
- More than 90% of the online pharmacies did not require any prescriptions even to sell prescription only drugs.
- 85% of them failed to provide any information that could associate them with a valid and verified walk in pharmacy store.
- 62% of the medication received from these online stores was fake/substandard or in a generic form that did not have any licensing from the original manufacturer.

About Laws and a Few Good Guidelines

Honestly speaking, it is not completely legal for the citizens of U.S to import prescription drugs into the country. But the law is not too stringent and is somewhat unclear, especially when people buy a 90 day supply for their personal use that too when the particular medicine is for the treatment of a serious condition for which the medical facilities might not be available here.

If you really want to order it online, then there are these six steps suggested by medical experts that one can follow in order to ensure its safe:
1. Go with online pharmacies that are linked with legal walk in stores in the U.S. like CVS.com, Target.com, Walmart.com etc. You can even check with your local pharmacy if they have an online website and can take your prescription orders and make refills.

2. Check if they have VIPPS symbol – You can check with verified internet pharmacy practice sites or VIPPS to see if the online pharmacies fulfil the required criteria and carry the VIPPS seal of approval. There are various other requirements too along with it like the pharmas must be in the U.S., they should give out only FDA approved medications, they must only fill those prescriptions that are a result of a patient-doctor relationship and they must also list their physical location.

3. Alternative source – You can even logon to LegitScript.com that goes with NABP standards in assessing drugstores that are not included in VIPPS.

4. Confirm if they have state approval – You can do a search in “California Board of Pharmacy” to ensure that the online pharmacy that you make your purchase from is registered to do business in your state. You can follow the links given in the website to check if the online pharmacy is legal.

5. Do a follow up – If confusion persists in your mind, then there are NABP lists that say “doesn’t recommend”. You can check the Non-Recommended sites to see if the site you use falls in that category.

6. Stick to the local pharmacies – The best source for you to buy trusted and genuine medications is your local pharmacy or pharmacy distribution program. It is very rare that fake drugs have been found in the U.S. supply chain.

The crux of the matter is that there is high risk involved in ordering medications from foreign websites. So in order to ensure the best for our health and our body it is best to stick to well known websites, walk-in pharmacies and pharmacy chains in the U.S.

There are better safe ways to save money while buying medications like switching to approved generic ones, looking put for drug discount programs and taking the help of your doctor or pharmacist in order to get a discount or a reduced cost.
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