Have you ever been tempted to purchase medication online because it’s cheaper? If so, you’re definitely not alone. Unfortunately if the website you purchase counterfeit medication from isn’t regulated by the NABP (The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy) it can wreak havoc on your health.
Counterfeit medication may have little or no medication at all or can even contain dangerous fillers, for instance rat poison, glue, chalk, drywall or other toxins. I was recently joined by Dr. Carmen Catizone, MS, RPh, DPh (executive director/secretary of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy); and lawyer Libby Baney, J.D. (founder of Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies) to discuss how you can be safe when purchasing pharmaceuticals online, and how Libby’s sister’s horrible experience with counterfeit medication inspired her to become an advocate for safe online pharmacies.
Candace Rose: Dr. Catizone, what are the dangers of rogue online pharmacies and counterfeit medications? How rampant is this problem?
Dr. Carmen Catizone: “NABP, The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, whom I represent and who regulate pharmacies and pharmacists see this as a growing and serious problem. We’ve looked at 11,000 websites and of those 11,000 websites, 96% of them are either illegal or rogue and the problem with that is they’re sending counterfeit drugs to people across the country and across the world, and those counterfeit drugs are extremely dangerous. They don’t have the right amount of medication in them or many times they also have dangerous substances – lead poison, arsenic, lead paint – all sorts of things that people would never ingest but people are putting in medications just to sell and make a profit.”
Candace Rose: How can we be sure an online pharmacy is legitimate and the medication is safe?
Dr. Carmen Catizone: “There are a couple of ways. If a consumer wants to do their own homework, look at the site and make sure it’s not offering medications without a prescription. Check with a local State Board of Pharmacy to make sure it’s licensed in their state and then just look at the website about what they’re asking for the patient to do or what they’re offering. The best way is to look for the .Pharmacy. The NABP developed .Pharmacy so it serves just like .Com, .Gov, .Edu. It serves as a way for consumers to know that that pharmacy that has a .Pharmacy is safe, it’s licensed, they’re only going to dispense medications based on valid prescriptions. There will be a pharmacist available to talk with them if they need to and that the medications that they receive they can take safely without much worry.”
Candace Rose: Libby, can you explain what led you to become an advocate for safe online pharmacies?
Libby Baney: “I’ve been working on this issue as a lawyer for about a year analyzing the crimes that online drug sellers commit. I was surprised to learn that even in my own family, my sister had become a victim of an online drug seller. During the time that I was doing legal research, she had been buying medicine online because her doctor encouraged her to. Her doctor said ‘You’re a busy recent college grad, it’s a little cheaper, it’s easier.’ She had a prescription, she even had insurance for the medicine, but it was just easier and like I said a little bit cheaper. Low and behold she had adverse events – vomiting, diarrhea, and became sick for more than a year. It took until I asked her ‘Where did you get that medicine?’ Then we realized that she had been a victim of an online drug seller, and it inspired me to go further in my advocacy and talk globally about this issue because it’s buy or beware when you’re buying online, unless you’re looking for those sites that only require a prescription or a license or now utilize the .Pharmacy domain.”
Candace Rose: Dr. Catizone, what kind of strict standards must websites applying for the .Pharmacy domain meet?
Dr. Carmen Catizone: “For a pharmacy to earn the .Pharmacy they have to be in compliance with all the laws and regulations, not only where they’re located, but where the patient is. They have to dispense medications only using a valid prescription and they have to use FDA approved drugs or drugs approved in that country that’s acceptable to the U.S. and they have to have a pharmacist available. Without those criteria and status being met, they won’t be issued a .Pharmacy.”
Candace Rose: Libby, what is your advice for consumers purchasing medication online?
Libby Baney: “First, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. We said that 96% of these websites out there are operating illegally and they are making millions of dollars duping patients. If it looks too good to be true, if it’s selling prescription medicine without a prescription, if it doesn’t have a pharmacy license – those are red flags to be aware of.
The other thing that now consumers can do is look to the right of the do, and to distinguish the legit from illegitimate, you can look for the .Pharmacy domain to the right of the dot and buy from a .Pharmacy.”
Candace Rose: Where can we go for more information?
Dr. Carmen Catizone: You can visit our website Safe.Pharmacy that has information about legitimate sites, about rogue sites, as well as information consumers were often asking us about taking the medication or storing.
For consumers they need to go to the buying safely section and that’s where they’ll find all of this information.”