Perhaps five percent of American adults purchase medicines from online pharmacies. This amounts to millions of people who are looking for convenience and cheaper prices, spending well over a billion dollars a year.
Safety is probably the most important issue involved in buying medicines online. Websites can sell fake medications while stealing consumers’ identity.
Over the past decade my research team has purchased drugs from online pharmacies, each time evaluating the processes, products, sites and those who credential them.
While the US Food and Drug Administration does not certify online pharmacies, it funds one of several third-party organizations that do. We found that credentialing of sites was the single most important determinant of whether the site was likely to always sell good quality medicines. Credentialed sites, whether in US or overseas, sold us good quality medicines. Some non-credentialed sites sold us fake medicines.
From a policy standpoint these findings conflict with what the pharmaceutical and pharmacy industries would want. Both maintain that buying from outside the US is dangerous and that one can only be safe buying FDA-approved US-sourced medicines. The result is obfuscation and misleading statements from both industries and their respective front organizations. This is harmful to both patients and the reputations of both businesses.
The FDA overseas drug quality and tells consumers it is illegal to personally import medicines into US. But on its websites, it acknowledges what nearly everyone who buys online knows to be true, that if you import less than 90 days supply of medicine for personal use the law is not enforced.
FDA does not have jurisdiction of overseas sites and hence cannot actively support them, but it could at least discuss the evidence on credentialing that is in the peer review literature. To not do this is a detriment to its goal of helping US patients access good quality affordable medicine.
Since we first worked with RxRights, a group to help underinsured Americans access cheaper medicines, we have undertaken occasional consumer surveys to understand where consumers get their information about medicines, where they buy those medicines and how they assess medicine quality. We use a mixture of surveymonkey online surveys and directly administered surveys. Read More…