Next Avenue

June 28, 2022, 5:00 a.m. EDT

Don’t trust everything you buy on the internet: The ugly truth about online pharmacies

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By Barbra Williams Cosentino

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Better to be safe than sorry

Does this mean that you shouldn’t use online pharmacies? Not at all. Savings can be substantial, especially if you or a family member take a number of medications. What it  does  mean is that you have to do your research carefully. There is plenty of information online (which is a bit of an oxymoron) that is educational and useful. 

Some excellent sites to bookmark and familiarize yourself with include:

  • The  Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies  allows you to download a list of safe pharmacy websites or to search their site to see if one you’re considering is legitimate. There is also a Facebook page. 

  • Your state board of pharmacy, your healthcare provider and your (legitimate, flesh and blood) pharmacist are excellent resources for learning how to buy and use medications safely.

  • Look for sites with the VIPPS seal (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) which are  accredited . Or use Verify Before You Buy, a service from the  Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies , or  LegitScript .

  • Look for “.pharmacy” at the end of a web address. When a website ends in .pharmacy, it has been verified by NABP. Unlike logos, the pharmacy domain cannot be faked or forged.

  • Some of the most well-known and safe online pharmacies include  Caremark Rx LLCCostco Wholesale  and  Walmart Inc.

  •  Check Not Recommended Sites  for an extensive list of sites that NABP eschews.

Dangerous narcotics and fake pharmaceuticals are also widely available for purchase on social media platforms like Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite META -1.77% , Snapchat /zigman2/quotes/205087158/composite SNAP +0.33% or Twitter . According to the Alliance to Counter Crime Online, drugs sales on these platforms fall into two categories: Illegal narcotics like heroin, cocaine and fentanyl, sold by individuals and criminal syndicates, and controlled substances such as opioid painkillers sold without prescriptions by rogue online pharmacies.

Social media algorithms enable the targeting of specific populations who are likely to want the  products  they are hawking. 

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The dangers of a rogue pharmacy

Some red flags of an online rogue pharmacy include:                         

  • Prescription medicines are dispensed after the patient has completed an online questionnaire but there is no prescription submitted or contact with doctor

  • There is no toll-free phone number or street address for the internet drug outlet on their website, and the only way to communicate with them is by email

  • No pharmacist consultation is available either by phone or secure web-based communication 

  • They ship prescription drugs world-wide or are located outside of the U.S.

  • Their prices seem outlandishly inexpensive

“Consumers are way too trusting when it comes to purchasing services or products online, including medication. Taking an anonymous vendor’s word about safety and efficacy is putting your health in their hands, even if you have no idea who they are,” says Baney.  

Her advice? “Verify before you buy, and don’t buy medications from social media companies and online marketplaces.”

Barbra Williams Cosentino RN, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Queens, N.Y., and a freelance writer whose essays and articles on health, parenting and mental health have appeared in the New York Times, Medscape, BabyCenter and many other national and online publications. 

This article is reprinted by permission from  , © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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