Why would a person want to use an online pharmacy? As a family physician, I can only think of a few reasons to do so – but there are more reasons not to.
First, to list the reasons a person might want to use an online drugstore:
1. Lower price. Theoretically it might be possible to find a better price online than at your local drug store. Online stores don’t have the overhead of a physical storefront, and therefore may (or may not) offer lower prices.
2. Convenience. The younger generation likes to pay bills online, watch movies online, go to school online. Why not buy medicine online? Also, if it’s 50 miles to the closest pharmacy, ordering online may save the time and trouble of driving an hour to obtain medication.
3. Non-U.S. medicines. Online pharmacies are not limited to the United States, and medications unavailable here are sometimes available elsewhere.
That said, what are the dangers of using an online pharmacy?
1. No pharmacist to talk to. Unlike your local drugstore where a pharmacist is on hand whenever medication is dispensed, Online Pharmacy USA may not offer this service. What if your pill looks different than the last time you got it? What if you received the wrong amount? What if the tablets are too difficult to swallow, or crumble and fall apart? Will you save money if you buy a generic that’s so poorly manufactured that it’s ineffective or troublesome to administer?
2. Questionable supply chain. Unless you order from a well-recognized pharmacy (one affiliated with an established storefront pharmacy, such as a national chain store) how do you know where your medications came from? Just because you order them in the U.S. doesn’t mean they came from here. Do you want drugs from Asia? How will you know the source?
3. Counterfeit or tainted medications. How will you know if you receive the correct medication – or even a medication at all? Just recently counterfeit Alli was sold online, containing a totally different chemical in potentially dangerous dosage. What if you’re allergic to something and you don’t even know what you received?
4. Illegal drug purchases. Do you know the law? Is it legal to order medication from another country that the FDA has not approved for sale in the United States? Do you know what controlled drugs are? Is it worth the possibility of arrest?
5. No physician to oversee medications. Odds are great your doctor will not approve of certain online purchases, and may not want to take responsibility for prescribing any medication that you purchase through alternate sources. Who will you turn to for medical advice?
6. Side-effect reporting. What will you do if you experience a side-effect? Doctors and standard drug stores report significant side effects to pharmaceutical companies or the FDA. The U.S. pharmaceutical industry does have the responsibility to assure safety of approved products. If your medication has been obtained through a non-official source, this may not be possible.
7. Dangerous drugs. There’s a reason certain medications are not recommended by doctors, even though they are available for sale in this country and elsewhere. For example, certain asthma medications increase blood pressure and heart rate. Do you want to take a medication when you’re not fully informed regarding side effects? There’s good reasons antibiotics are not sold over-the-counter. Do you know what medication treats what infection best? Do you know what to do if it doesn’t work?
As mentioned above, an online pharmacy affiliated with a national chain store is likely as safe as going to a storefront pharmacy. But if you’re looking for a deal from questionable sources, think twice before placing your order.
Cynthia J. Koelker MD is a family physician of over twenty years, and holds degrees from MIT, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She is the author of “101 Ways to Save Money on Healthcare.”