Buyer Beware: Online pharmacies

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Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 11:47 AM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - While millions of Americans are cutting back on their medications due to rising costs, others are turning to the internet. But buying online comes with dangers that can have life-threatening consequences.

One in three Americans says they don’t take their medications as prescribed because they can’t afford it. These rising costs are often coupled with high health insurance deductibles which make the prospect of buying online cheaper alternatives very attractive.

For example, for the 37 million Americans with diabetes, insulin is a critical part of managing high blood sugar. But the prices of diabetes medicine is sky high. In fact, the listed price of one has jumped 1,200% since it launched. Another is up 715%.

Meanwhile, the cost of a popular drug for rheumatoid arthritis is up by 486% and one nerve pain medication is up 420%.

So, it’s quite common these days for people who need these medications to search for better prices on the internet. But health experts are cautioning buyers.

“One of the things we have is a project where we order prescription drugs from online pharmacies, analyze them, and see what you’re actually getting,” says Forensic Scientist Dr. Elizabeth Gardner.

Researchers found some online pharmacies were fake storefronts running scams with expired, unidentified, or potentially dangerous chemicals. Some of the tested drugs were also inconsistent.

“It did contain the active ingredient, but when we quantified it, we were supposed to be receiving pills that contained 20 milligrams. And they contained anywhere from 18 to 41 milligrams,” says Dr. Gardner.

That means that a buyer would either be getting less than they needed or a higher dose than recommended.

So, what are the safest bets to buy online?

The FDA recommends consumers buy from verified online sources related to their individual health plans, or just from their “brick and mortar” pharmacy.

While most consumers assume that online pharmacies are safe, the FDA estimates that only 3% of online pharmacies are in compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws and standards.

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