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Consumer alert

Report warns about online pharmacy fraud

by Megan Fink
Public Relations
Nearly two-thirds of prescriptions purchased from online sources are bogus, according to the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines (EAASM) report, “The Counterfeiting Superhighway,” released this month.
More than 100 online pharmacies were inspected as part of a study by researchers working with EAASM to determine how many were illegally selling prescription-only drugs. Investigators also bought a variety of popular medicines through the Internet and tested their packaging and content for authenticity. As a result of their findings, they concluded that the majority of drugs sold online are phony, and generally not what the consumer thinks they are.
Researchers also determined whether a certifiable pharmacist was associated or available for a particular site; if the online outlet required doctor’s prescriptions; and if they offered consumers bulk discounts.
Findings support the following: the majority of online pharmacies were fronts and did not exist; most were not listed as legitimate Web sites nor were  they approved by a recognized industry organization; and most did not have working telephone numbers. Security policies also were difficult to locate.
After site analysis, the drugs obtained from the sites were sent to the brand’s manufacturer for testing. Medications ordered had either the wrong amount of the main ingredient, were placebos containing none of the active ingredient, or cut with toxic fillers like chalk or pesticides. Another danger with placing orders with rogue pharmacies is the lack of medical advice, because researchers found that these online drug sellers did not employ a system for determining interactions with a patient’s other medications, which is what a pharmacist in a drug store or hospital would do.
Still, consumers still buy drugs online because it’s fast, confidential, convenient and cheaper, according to Wayne Weart, PharmD, professor, South Carolina College of Pharmacy MUSC campus and Clinical Sciences. “You can sit at your computer and order the medication,” said Weart. “You might not want others to know about your condition or the fact that you may need a particular medication. And you might not want to ask your physician, because he or she may not prescribe the medication that you think you want or need.”
EAASM, a drug and consumer safety advocacy group, provides consumers with information regarding counterfeit operations online, and recommends how people can protect themselves and their identities.
So, before responding to an e-mail, spam or banner ad claiming the best drug prices available for cholesterol medication, for example; verify a site’s authenticity. One clue would be whether the company would sell prescription-only drugs without a prescription. And while surfing the Web for cheap medications, make sure sites have a registered pharmacist and check for their regulation information. Be wary of sites offering great deals on large purchases.
“We often believe the costs are lower online,” said Weart. “But if it’s the wrong medication or has toxic ingredients, is that what you want?”


Friday, June 27, 2008
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