These days the internet is a popular tool for sourcing all sorts of consumer items, primarily for saving money. However, when it comes to your personal prescription medications, you may be putting yourself in serious danger.
The main problem with internet pharmacy sourced drugs is that a person does not know whether the drugs are what they say they are and if they are safe. More often than not, they are counterfeit, do not contain the correct dosage, are not pure and potentially contaminated with other trace medications or filth, or even placebos offering no benefit what-so-ever.
The unsuspecting patient assumes the medications are real or at the intended strength they need, and use them as directed by their physician. Unfortunately, they may cause the patient’s condition to get worse, remain the same, or in the worst case result in death.
Case in point, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently updated its warning about a counterfeit version of the weight loss drug Alli being sold over the internet. Alli is an FDA-approved over-the-counter weight loss drug that contains orlistat as its active ingredient. The counterfeit version of Alli does not contain orlistat; rather, it is made with varying amounts of sibutramine, a stimulant drug. Although sibutramine is the active ingredient in another FDA-approved prescription weight loss drug, it is only to be used in specific doses and under the supervision of a physician. The counterfeit product is illegal and unsafe.
Additional FDA laboratory tests on the counterfeit product show that people may be taking 3-times the usual daily dose (or twice the recommended maximum dose) of sibutramine if they are following the dosing directions for Alli. Healthy people who take this much sibutramine can experience anxiety, nausea, heart palpitations, tachycardia (a racing heart), insomnia, and small increases in blood pressure. This excessive amount of sibutramine is dangerous to people who have a history of cardiovascular disease, and can lead to elevated blood pressure, stroke, or heart attack.
While some internet pharmacies may be legitimate, many are not. These illegitimate, fraudulent enterprises market prescription drugs though false companies, often located outside the U.S. where they are at arms length from the law. Their websites may list a U.S. address or the shipments may have a U.S. address listed for the distribution center, but for the most part, they are false. Sometimes they are smuggled into the country illegally and then distributed in the U.S. According to HealthDay News, one estimate has the sale of counterfeit drugs doubling in the last five years and will hit $75 billion in 2010.
The take home message is, to ensure your own safety and the safety of those you may care for, do not use the internet for ordering prescription medications. If cost is an issue, check out the website of the drug’s manufacturer. In many cases company websites offer programs to assist low-income patients or provide links to organizations or programs that might help manage the cost of necessary but expensive medications.