Online Pharmacies - Are They The Answer?

Replace a trip to the corner drugstore with low prices and online convenience.


Many of these are lawful enterprises that offer convenience, privacy, and the safeguards of traditional procedures for prescribing drugs. And while some online pharmacies are the familiar large drugstore chains, many are smaller local businesses enhancing their customer service with electronic access. But be wary of others who are using the Internet as an outlet for products or practices that are already illegal in the offline world. These sites either sell unapproved products, or if they deal in approved ones, they often sidestep established procedures meant to protect consumers. New legislation has been proposed to regulate online pharmacies.

How can you tell which sites are legitimate online pharmacies?

Check with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to see if the site is listed in their Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program. Don't buy from sites that offer to prescribe a prescription drug for the first time without a physical exam, sell a prescription drug without a prescription, or sell drugs not approved by FDA. Don't do business with sites that do not provide access to a registered pharmacist to answer questions.

Also, avoid sites that do not identify with whom you are dealing and do not provide a U.S. address and phone number to contact if there's a problem. Beware of sites that advertise a "new cure" for a serious disorder or a quick cure-all for a wide range of ailments. Steer clear of sites that include undocumented case histories claiming "amazing" results. Talk to your health-care professional before using any medication for the first time.

Here is a short list of pharmacy Web sites that provide medications only to those patients who have already seen a physician: Soma.com, one of the first online drugstores, was recently bought by America's largest pharmacy, CVS Corp. Consumers get the convenience of ordering online and picking up prescriptions at one of CVS's locations, saving them shipping fees and days of waiting. CVS.com is now allied with Merck-Medco Managed Care LLC, the nations's largest pharmacy benefit management (PBM) firm.

With its investment from Rite Aid Corp., Drugstore.com feels it has the best of both drug chain and PBM worlds. The site's users can pick up products they order at any of Rite Aid's locations. And Drugstore.com is automatically tied into the 50-million member reimbursement plans covered by Rite Aid's PCS Health Systems.

Alarmed by the growing dominance of chain stores on the Web, the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) created CornerDrugstore.com. Consumers can connect to their local pharmacy through the CornerDrugstore.com site and order from pharmacists who already have their insurance and medication information. Another advantage: roughly 85% of community pharmacists make home or office prescription deliveries the same day they're ordered, an option that most chain stores do not offer.

Important Drug Enforcment Agency (DEA) Information:

"Web sites offering to sell prescription controlled substances directly to consumers 'without a prescription' or 'without requiring a doctor visit' are operating outside the requirements of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

It is illegal to purchase controlled substances, which include drugs such as narcotic pain relievers (e.g., OxyContin® , Vicodin® ), sedatives (e.g., Valium® , Xanax® , Ambien® ), stimulants or 'diet drugs' (e.g., phentermine, phendimetrazine, Adderall® , Ritalin® ), and anabolic steroids (e.g., Winstrol® , Equipoise® ), unless you or your pharmacy has received a valid prescription from your doctor. A valid prescription requires a legitimate doctor-patient relationship, which in turn requires a valid medical examination, diagnosis and conclusion that the drugs prescribed are for a legitimate medical purpose. Responsible professional medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association and state boards of medicine and pharmacy, have all condemned the practice of 'cyber doctors' issuing prescriptions on the basis of online questionnaires and consider it to be an unprofessional and unacceptable standard of care. The DEA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have also concluded that obtaining prescription drugs, including controlled substances, by simply filling out a questionnaire or placing an order with a website offering such products for sale does not meet the legal requirements of a valid prescription. It is illegal for a consumer to import a controlled substance from a foreign country and many sources of prescription drugs sold via the Internet are foreign even when not advertised as such."

Persons considering purchasing drugs via an Internet pharmacy should exercise good common sense and scrutiny in selecting an Internet pharmacy. An 'Internet pharmacy' site should provide a physical address for the pharmacy, in addition to the Internet address and a telephone number for the pharmacy. Some common indicators that the 'Internet pharmacy' site may not be legitimate and should not be used as a source for controlled substances include the following:

  1. The site is not a participant in any insurance plan an requires that all payments be made with a credit card.
  2. The site requires that you waive some rights before they send you the drugs.
  3. The site advises you about the law and why it is permissible for you to obtain pharmaceutical controlled substances from foreign countries via the Internet.
  4. The site does not ask the name, address, or phone number of your current physician.
  5. The site advises you to have the drugs sent to post office boxes or other locations to avoid detection by U.S. authorities.
  6. The site does not require that you provide a bona fide prescription issued by your personal physician or mid-level practitioner."

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