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Misc. News : C.onsumer A.ffair Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Buying drugs from online pharmacies may pose health risks
By Kathy Jones
Aug 11, 2006, 08:41

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11 Aug, ( - People who buy prescription drugs on the Internet could be putting their health at risk, according to a new study in the medical journal The Lancet. Doctors warned that the trend of buying drugs online was increasing, but people must be aware that such drugs may sometimes be fake.

The warning was issued after the case of a 64-year-old woman who was taking the oral steroid prednisolone for four years became nearly blind. The woman, a pensioner had bought the drugs from an online pharmaceutical company in Thailand.

A team of doctors from Sunderland, UK, said in a letter to the journal that the woman began buying the drugs after diagnosing herself with chronic fatigue syndrome. The woman took the drugs for nearly four years, but during the last six months noticed that her eyesight was failing.

In February 2006, the woman reported to the accident and emergency department of the Sunderland Royal Infirmary.

Doctors at the hospital diagnosed the woman as having glaucoma and cataracts, which they said was caused by the steroids. Glaucoma is the condition where the intra-ocular pressure or the pressure in the eye increases. The condition damages the optic nerve eventually leads to blindness. Both cataracts and glaucoma are side effects of prolonged steroid use.

"The online availability of controlled and uncontrolled drug therapies needs to be carefully monitored," Philip Severn and Scott Fraser of the Sunderland Eye Infirmary wrote.

"As the Internet evolves, so should our method of taking a medical history -- it is increasingly reasonable to ask, 'Are you on any medication prescribed by your doctor or any other practitioner, or purchased over the counter or from an online pharmaceutical website?'" the researchers observed.

Commenting on the case of the woman, Dr Severn said, "She had, of her own volition, taken between 10mg and 40mg prednisolone a day. She had not received any medical input or review from a healthcare professional in relation to this diagnosis."

Her prognosis is not all that good. When the doctors examined her in July, the woman was scheduled to undergo a cataract operation. For the rest of her life, whe is likely to need constant review by her ophthalmic doctors.

Dr Severn and Dr Fraser warn that some drugs sold online may be fake or contain disproportionate ingredients, which may pose health risks.

The study is a timely reminder of the inherent dangers to the health posed by buying medicines online. Usually treatment for acne, cancer and heart disease requires prescription drugs. But in online pharmacies it is very easy to obtain the drugs.

Consumers only need to give their credit card details and wait "between 10 and 21 days" before delivery. The problem is these pharmacies are not regulated and most of them operate illegally. The US Food and Drug Administration says in posting on its website says the number of Websites selling prescription drugs may be close to 1,000 and "seems to be growing."

The agency said that as the number of people using the Internet for their drug needs increases, so does the risk of serious health damage. Some of the risks include
* Fake, unapproved, outdated, or sub-standard products
* Little or no quality control (packaging, purity of ingredients, storage)
* Possibility of an incorrect diagnosis (i.e., those sites that inappropriately diagnose and prescribe online)
* Obtaining an inappropriate medicine (e.g., inappropriate for condition, interaction with other drugs)
* Lack of assurance of confidentiality and security issues

The FDA has also acted in cases where medicines were being unlawfully distributed. In one case, an emergency room physician from Kentucky was sentenced to a year in prison in October 2004 for conspiring to unlawfully distribute controlled substances over the Internet.

In August 2004, the FDA announced the filing of a consent decree that stopped Rx Depot and Rx of Canada from facilitating the illegal importation of drugs. A judge found that the defendants' actions posed a public health threat.

The agency also recommends that people who want to buy prescription drugs online do so only from state-licensed pharmacies in the United States. This helps to assure that the consumer will receive drugs that are manufactured, packaged, distributed, and labeled properly.

"There are also smaller, and still legitimate, Web sites that consumers can use with confidence," said Linda Silvers, who leads the Internet and health fraud team at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

"A Web site can look very sophisticated and legitimate, but actually be an illegal operation. If there is no way to contact the Web site pharmacy by phone, if prices are dramatically lower than the competition, or if no prescription from your doctor is required, consumers should be especially wary."

In the case mentioned in The Lancet, doctors found that they were able to buy 1,000 tablets oral steroids from online pharmacies for 25.23. "If you are going to access medicines on the internet you are gambling with your own health," the authors concluded.

For legitimate online pharmacies, visit NABP at
Legitimate pharmacies that carry the VIPPS seal are listed at

© 2004-2005 by unless otherwise specified

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