Buying Drugs Online - Like Playing Russian Roulette

Patient Expert

With the high prices of many medications and the difficulty in getting doctors to prescribe the opioid medications you need to relieve your pain, it can be tempting to consider ordering drugs online.   In fact, we periodically get questions asking about online pharmacies.   But as it turns out, the odds of living through a game of Russian roulette are better than your odds of ordering from an online pharmacy and getting the medication you ordered that is not contaminated and at the same time keeping your credit card information safe.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) recently announced that it evalauted 5,200 Internet drug outlets and found that 96% were not in compliance with the basic criteria required for a legitamate pharmacy practice.

Some of the problems the NABP found included:

  • More than 75% dispense drugs, including opioids and other analgesics, without a valid prescription being required, with most Internet outlets accepting a brief online questionnaire in place of a prescription.

  • Nearly 25% post a physical address located outside the US, and roughly half do not provide any physical address at all. According to the World Health Organization, more than 50% of medicines purchased over the Internet from sites that conceal their physical address are counterfeit.

  • Nearly half offer foreign-made or unapproved drugs. Because these drugs are not subject to the quality and safety requirements of those approved for sale in the U.S. or even of those approved for sale in other developed countries their safety and efficacy are unknown.

  • Nearly 20% of the online operations do not have secure sites that protect patients' personal and financial information.

Another danger not looked at in this review is the fact that a number of sites claiming to be pharmacies are actually scams to get your credit card information.   You may or may not ever receive the products you ordered - or if you do receive something, it may not be the medication you think it is.

What About Ordering Opioids Online?

When it comes to opioids, it is illegal in the U.S. to buy or sell opioid medications online.   So think about it - if a company is offering to sell you an opioid over the Internet, they are already operating illegally.   Why would you think you could trust them to send you the right medication or not steal your credit card info?

NABP President Gary A. Schnabel, RN, RPh says, "Patients looking to purchase medications over the Internet would be well-advised to consider who is on the other end of the transaction.   Virtually anyone with a computer and a bank account can sign on to become an affiliate of a rogue network, set up a website using a template, and start selling drugs online.   Bearing in mind that these affiliate network programs are behind thousands of Web sites selling prescription drugs, it follows that the operators of most Internet drug outlets have no knowledge of or concern for patient safety."

On top of the physical and financial risks, remember that most of the online pharmacies offering opioids are from foreign countries.   It is illegal to import narcotics and the FDA has procedures in place to try to intercept such products and to take further legal action.   In other words, you could be arrested and charged with importing narcotics.   Is it really worth the risk?

Are Any Online Pharmacies Safe?

There are a few reputible pharmacies that offer services through the Internet.   If you would like to price some of your medications, other than opioids, online but want to be sure you're looking at safe sites, here are some resources to help:

_A Guide to Buying Prescription Drugs on the Internet _

LegitScript - Enter the name of a pharmacy and find out if it is legitamate.

NABP. 5,000 Web Sites Selling Prescription Drugs Outside of Pharmacy Laws and Practice Standards. News Release. 12/28/2009.