It couldn’t be easier—ordering prescription drugs online with a few clicks of the mouse and having them delivered right to your door, without ever having to see a doctor.
But is it safe? Is it legal?
Often not. And you need to know the risks.
But there are many that don’t—they are just out to make a fast buck at your expense. These shady businesses fill orders without prescriptions. They pay doctors just to take a quick glance at your brief medical questionnaire. They don’t know if you are drug-addicted, underage, or have another condition that their medications could make worse. And they don’t care.
Worse yet, the products they peddle are questionable, at best. The drugs may be way past their expiration date. They may be counterfeit, mislabeled, adulterated, or contaminated. And they may well be made from suspect raw materials in underground laboratories in the U.S. and abroad, far from the safety-conscious eyes of the Food and Drug Administration.
Part of the problem is that these illegal pharmacies are all over the Internet. More than 80,000 “portal” websites currently sell ad space for these medications and link to one of more than 1,400 “anchor” websites that allow customers to place orders through illegal pharmacies. You don’t even have to search for these offers—they often come straight to your inbox as e-mail spam, enticing you with a cornucopia of drugs on the cheap.
Are there ways to tell whether an online pharmacy is legal? Definitely, and here’s what to look for. Legitimate pharmacies:
- Require a prescription from a licensed doctor, usually by mail (if they accept a fax copy, they will always call your doctor to verify the prescription);
- Make you submit a detailed medical history;
- Clearly state their payment, privacy, and shipping fees on their sites; and
- Use secure or encrypted website connections for transactions.
Many legitimate online pharmacies are also certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy—check its website for a listing. Bear in mind, some of the larger Internet pharmacies may not be certified because of their already well-recognized names.
To help protect you, the FBI has made Internet pharmacy fraud one of its top health care fraud priorities. We work—and train—with federal investigators from our partner agencies. We also work closely with state and local law enforcement, and, because many illegal online pharmacies have global connections, we often coordinate with our overseas partners.
Just one example of a major crackdown: in August 2007, a San Diego grand jury handed down aagainst 18 people, charging them with operating an illegal online pharmacy that netted more than $126 million over a two-year period. Incredibly, this network—which included everyone from doctors and druggists to credit card processors and affiliated websites that advertised the illegal wares—allegedly received over a million Internet orders from customers in all 50 states.
Our bottom-line advice: do your homework and steer clear of illegal Internet pharmacies, even if the prices are tempting. It’s your health, after all.