LIFE WAVES: Be cautious when buying pills from online sources

The Internet has made it possible for consumers to buy just about anything without leaving their homes. Whether looking for a pizza or a car, consumers can find whatever they need with a few clicks of the mouse.

But buying merchandise online always comes with a degree of risk, and that’s especially so when buying medicine over the Internet. Not all websites that sell medicine are trustworthy and many physicians feel buying medicine online is never a viable option. Recognizing the risk involved in such a transaction, the Food and Drug Administration offers the following advice to consumers consider purchasing medicines over the Internet.

Learn about medicines before ordering

Consumers should learn as much as possible about the medicines they plan to purchase before placing an order. Know what the medicine looks like, including its color, texture, shape and packaging. If the medicine has a particular taste or smell, make note of that before taking any medication purchased over the Internet.

Know what you’re buying

Many Web sites that sell medicine are perfectly legal and trustworthy. However, just as many, if not more, Web sites sell medicine that has not been checked or approved by the FDA. These drugs might contain the wrong active ingredient or too much or too little of the active ingredient, making them ineffective and possibly even deadly. These faulty sites appear just as credible as their legitimate counterparts, but sell ineffective or dangerous drugs to consumers who don’t know what they’re getting in return.

In an effort to increase awareness among consumers purchasing medicine online, the FDA purchased and analyzed a host of products that were sold online as Tamiflu, which is used to treat some types of influenza infection. The active ingredient in Tamiflu is oseltamivir, but in one package purchased by the FDA online the drug they received as Tamiflu contained none of the active ingredient oseltamivir. Similar problems were reported by consumers who purchased Ambien, Xanax, Lexapro and Ativan over the Internet. Instead of receiving these drugs, consumers received products containing the foreign version of Haldol, a powerful anti-psychotic drug that sent consumers to the emergency room, where they were treated for a host of ailments.

When shopping for medicine online, the FDA notes the following signs of a Web site that’s trustworthy:

• The site is located in the United States.

• The Web site is licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the Web site is operating.

• The Web site offers a licensed pharmacist available to answer any questions.

• The Web site provides accessible contact information that allows consumers to talk to a person if they have any comments or questions.

• The Web site has an accessible and understandable privacy and security policy for its consumers.

• The Web site does not sell consumer information without consent.

• The Web site only sells prescription drugs to consumers with an existing prescription.

More information about prescription medication safety is available at


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