A national campaign aimed at making Americans more aware of the prevalence of fake online pharmacies has been launched by the FDA.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) warned that fraudulent online pharmacies pose a danger to patient health. The Agency says it aims to help consumers make safe purchases.

BeSafeRx – Know Your Online Pharmacy is a resource for consumers and caregivers who plan to buy medicines online and to better understand who they are buying from. The webpage aims to help purchasers make sure that what they buy really is what is detailed in their doctor’s prescription.

Of all the people who have bought products and services of any kind online, only one quarter have purchased prescription medications. Approximately 1 in every 3 consumers said they did not feel confident enough to buy online.

According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, fewer than 1 in every 33 online pharmacies meet state and federal laws.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D., said:

“Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by FDA, or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients. Fraudulent and illegal online pharmacies often offer deeply discounted products. If the low prices seem too good to be true, they probably are. FDA’s BeSafeRx campaign is designed to help patients learn how to avoid these risks.”

Fake pharmacies which set up websites use compellingly persuasive marketing techniques to come over as authentic and legitimate, the FDA wrote in an online communiqué today.

There is a serious risk of buying medications with the wrong ingredients, incorrect dosages, or fake medications with no active ingredient at all. If the product does not match what is written in a doctor’s prescription, purchasers may be putting their health at risk. In some cases, the medication being sold has another, possibly harmful ingredient.

Only these pharmacies should be considered by purchasers when buying online:

  • Ones located within the USA
  • Pharmacies that only deliver if the purchaser can produce a valid prescription from a doctor or other authorized health care professional
  • The pharmacy has a state board of pharmacy licence

The BeSafeRx campaign is not only aimed at patients and their caregivers, but also for other federal agencies, private organizations, non-profit organizations to be used for their own educational purposes. Many online pharmacies do not require a pre-written prescription if you want to buy a prescription medication. Some pharmacies are not located where they say they are – one may say it is located in the USA, but is really registered in a country where prescriptions are not required.

Many Americans order medications from online pharmacies that do not require prescriptions to avoid the expense and bother of having to go and see a doctor, or because their doctor refuses to write out a prescription.

A reputable website employs its own in-house doctor to check medication requests – these doctors may write out prescriptions. Many online pharmacies, however, offer all kinds of drugs without a doctor review or prescription requirement. Health experts say that this practice is potentially dangerous because there is no reliable assessment of contraindications, risk/benefit ratios, and the suitability of a drug for a specific patient.

American consumers find online pharmacies attractive mainly because many are so cheap compared to retail outlets in the USA. Purchasers can sometimes save from 50% to 80% when buying from foreign websites.

In August 2011 cybersecurity experts at Carnegie Mellon University reported that the internet was being “flooded” with illegal online pharmacies.

A growing number of illegal online pharmacies are flooding the web trying to sell dangerous unauthorized prescriptions, according to a new report from cybersecurity experts at Carnegie Mellon University.

Written by Christian Nordqvist