FDA cautions consumers about buying counterfeit drugs online

| 11/5/2007

For many truckers, scheduling home time to get in to see their doctors or even to get their prescriptions refilled at their local pharmacies is such a hassle that they – along with many U.S. consumers – are turning to the Internet for their prescription needs.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced results after a yearlong investigation into drugs mailed to the United States from foreign countries. The study found that many consumers are choosing the Internet route for ordering their prescription medications to avoid paying for a doctor’s visit to obtain a prescription.

However, FDA officials are cautioning consumers that buying medications on the Internet may be a “risky” business, especially when many of the drugs are not from legitimate FDA-approved Web sites. Some of the drugs are counterfeits and do not offer the benefits that legitimate versions of the medications provide.

While consumers may avoid the up-front cost of seeing a physician, they may be paying a much higher price, a press release from the FDA warned. Many of the drugs consumers are ordering online are also available at U.S. pharmacies at a cheaper price and include FDA-approved generic medications, but do require a prescription.

The FDA found that 88 percent of the 2,069 drug packages examined during the year-long investigation appeared to be prescription medications available in the United States. More than half, or 53 percent of the products sampled, have FDA-approved generics available, many that can be bought for $4 at several national chain pharmacies – if you have a doctor’s prescription.

The investigation also found that many consumers are choosing to pay high shipping costs and may be getting counterfeit medication because they are purchasing their medications from illegal Web sites that don’t require the purchaser to have a prescription.

“The data lead us to believe that many people are buying drugs online not to save money, but to bypass the need for a prescription from their doctor since these Web sites typically do not require the purchaser to have a prescription,” said Randall Lutter, FDA’s deputy commissioner for policy, in the FDA release. “In essence, they seem to be getting and using prescription drugs without a prescription, an intrinsically risky practice.”