Illegal online pharmacies, selling potentially unsafe drugs, are the target of a new campaign launched by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The BeSafeRx – Know Your Online Pharmacy campaign aims to warn US citizens about the prevalence of such fraudulent sites, with less than 3 per cent of online pharmacies meeting state and federal laws, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).
In addition, the campaign aims to advise consumers on how to make safe pharmaceutical purchases, with nearly 30 per cent admitting in an FDA survey they lacked confidence about how to make safe online purchase.
The same survey also highlighted how pressing the need for suitable guidance was, with nearly 1 in 4 internet consumers in the US having purchased prescription medicine online.
Reasons people turn to such online pharmacies include the low price and convenience, said FDA commissioner Dr Margaret Hamburg, but patients needed to learn the dangers of purchasing from an unverified source.
“Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by FDA, or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients,” she said.
Central to the campaign is the FDA's BeSafeRx website, which contains advice for patients as well as resources for federal agencies, non-profit and private organisations to use for their own educational efforts.
It warns that “fake online pharmacies can manipulate their websites to appear legitimate”, making it important to check the pharmacy's licence through a patient's state board of pharmacy, or equivalent.
The FDA lists links for the boards of all 50 US states, and advises if a user cannot confirm that an online pharmacy is licensed in the US, it should not be used.
On top of this, the FDA also recommends the pharmacy requires a valid prescription from your doctor; provides a physical address and telephone number in the US; and has a licensed pharmacist to answer questions.
The FDA's campaign follows a similar effort from the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) – a collaboration between private companies, such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, and the US government to shut down illegal sites and support awareness efforts to help inform consumers about the dangers of counterfeit or contaminated prescription drugs.
The campaign features a public service announcement video informing people about the risks of purchasing medication from fake pharmacies online, as well as a website providing information and tools, including an online pharmacy verification service.