Though technically illegal, millions of Americans buy prescription drugs from overseas pharmacies to save money. But the practice can be a huge gamble.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, a professional group, reviewed over 10,000 Internet drug outlets and found that many sold fake or unapproved drugs. Some that claimed to be Canadian pharmacies actually sold medicines from developing countries where regulations are weak and counterfeit drugs are common.
Roger Bate, a pharmaceutical expert at the American Enterprise Institute, estimates that 2 to 3 percent of online pharmacies are legitimate. When buying Canadian, he said, look for outlets certified by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, a trade group of Canadian pharmacies, or those certified by PharmacyChecker.com, a free website that verifies that the foreign sites it approves protect consumer information and meet quality standards.
Last year, Mr. Bate and his colleagues published a study analyzing 372 orders of five popular prescription drugs – Lipitor, Celebrex, Viagra, Nexium and Zoloft – that they purchased from 79 domestic and foreign online drug outlets. Products bought from Canadian or other foreign sites certified by C.I.P.A. or PharmacyChecker.com were of high quality. So were products ordered from American sites verified by either the N.A.B.P. or LegitScript.com, a certification agency founded by a former White House aide on drug policy issues.
But that was not the case for sites that were not certified by any of these four groups. Many of the drugs they sold were fakes, including about a quarter of the Viagra samples, which largely appeared to have originated in China.
“You can’t be 100 percent certain with any sites, frankly,” Mr. Bate said. “But you are running a much lower risk if you buy from a credentialed site.”
By Anahad O'Connor, The NY Times, 11/11/13
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