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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Use Caution Buying Health Products Online

Internet and online shopping trend helps us saving our time and hassele, but at the same time there are risks involved as world wide web has space for spam sites offering products which might cause health hazards. As a consumer it is our duty to learn about the laws and rules and check it either the products we are going to buy meets with the regulations of medicine or drug administration agencies or not. This post would help you to learn what you need to know about the risks involved in buying online health products and how to be a wise consumer.

Many legitimate Web sites bring customers health products with the benefits of convenience, privacy, and, sometimes, cheaper prices. "But consumers need to be aware that the Internet has also created a marketplace for unapproved medical products, illegal prescribing, and products marketed with fraudulent health claims," says William Hubbard, associate commissioner for policy and planning at the Food and Drug Administration.

"And the unique qualities of the Internet, including its broad reach, relative anonymity, and the ease of creating and removing Web sites, pose challenges for enforcing federal and state laws," Hubbard says. "Many sites are connected to other sites and have multiple links, which makes investigations more complex. And there are jurisdictional challenges because the regulatory and enforcement issues cross state, federal, and international lines."

Facts and figures:

One way that illegitimate Web sites violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) is by dispensing prescription drugs without a valid prescription, says Steven Silverman, director of the Division of New Drugs and Labeling Compliance in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "FDA leaves it to individual states to decide what is a valid prescription. Web sites cannot dispense drugs in violation of those laws or with no prescription at all."

Risks: "When you buy drugs from a questionable Web site, you just don't know what you're actually getting," says Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

The main concerns are that the drugs could be outdated, contaminated, too potent or not potent enough, improperly manufactured and handled, or counterfeit. "We have seen some reports of cases where people thought they ordered prescription drugs, but they received some kind of dietary supplement," Catizone says.

In general, to be valid, a prescription must address a legitimate medical purpose, be written by a physician or other health care provider authorized to prescribe medicine, and be based on a legitimate doctor–patient relationship. But some Web sites dispense drugs after customers simply fill out an online questionnaire or engage in some other similar cyber "consultation."

Tips: For consumers who want to buy prescription drugs online, the FDA recommends purchasing only from state-licensed online pharmacies that are located in the United States. This helps to assure that the consumer will receive drugs that are manufactured, packaged, distributed, and labeled properly. Some legitimate Internet pharmacies are extensions of traditional brick-and-mortar chain drug stores such as Walgreens, Eckerd, and CVS.

"There are also smaller, and still legitimate, Web sites that consumers can use with confidence," says Linda Silvers, who leads the Internet and health fraud team at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "Legitimate sites require valid prescriptions."

"A Web site can look very sophisticated and legitimate, but actually be an illegal operation," Silvers says. "If there is no way to contact the Web site pharmacy by phone, if prices are dramatically lower than the competition, or if no prescription from your doctor is required, consumers should be especially wary."

People should check with their state board of pharmacy or NABP to see if an online pharmacy has a valid pharmacy license, meets state quality standards, and is located in the United States . NABP's Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites program, also known as VIPPS, is a voluntary program that verifies the legitimacy of Internet sites dispensing prescription drugs and gives a seal of approval to sites that apply and meet state licensure requirements and other VIPPS criteria.

To find out if an online pharmacy is licensed, is in good standing, and is located in the United States, contact NABP at Legitimate pharmacies that carry the VIPPS seal are listed at For a list of state boards of pharmacy, visit

Reporting Problems

To report a problem with a Web site selling human drugs, animal drugs, medical devices, biological products, foods, dietary supplements, or cosmetics:

If the problem involves a serious or life-threatening situation, call your health care professional immediately for medical advice. To report the situation to the FDA, call (301) 443-1240.
If the problem involves a serious reaction or problem, contact your health care professional for advice. To fill out the FDA's MedWatch reporting form, go to

For problems that do not involve a serious or life-threatening reaction, fill out the form at
To report e-mails or Web sites promoting medical products that might be illegal, forward the material to
To report false claims to the Federal Trade Commission, call (877) 382-4357.
If you lose your money, contact the credit card company, your state attorney general's office, or the Better Business Bureau.

Online Resources

FDA buying online page

FDA online guide: "Buying Prescription Medicines Online: A Consumer Safety Guide"

FDA report on combating counterfeit drugs

List of dietary supplement ingredients for which the FDA has issued

List of enforcement actions taken against the promoters of products

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