The Risks of Obtaining Medications from Online Pharmacies

Latest News
Home / Blog / The Risks of Obtaining Medications from Online Pharmacies

by | Mar 27, 2012 | Pharmacy Errors

As more and more commerce moves from brick-and-mortar businesses to online retailers, online pharmacies are appearing all over the internet. These services can offer significant cost savings for consumers. They can also offer a certain convenience, sparing patients a trip to the drugstore by delivering their medications right to their door. At the same time, they bring some considerable risks. One risk is the possibility that important medications may be delayed, or even lost, in the mail. Other risks can result in serious medical or even legal trouble for consumers.

An advantage of a brick-and-mortar pharmacy is the ability to speak directly to a licensed pharmacist. This gives the patient the chance to ask questions, but it also affords an opportunity for both the patient and the pharmacist to confirm that the patient has received the correct medication. Pharmacy errors in which a patient receives the wrong medication certainly occur, and conducting a transaction entirely online and by mail makes an error harder to rectify. A California woman, trying to fill a prescription for the cholesterol-lowering drug Zocor, instead received Lipitor in the mail from an online pharmacy. While both drugs treat the same conditions, they work in different ways and are not substitutes for one another. The woman sent the medication back and reported the error to the pharmacy, but received the same wrong medication again. Her only means of contacting the pharmacy was through an 800 number.

While many online pharmacies are legitimate and reputable businesses, some do not maintain high standards of quality control. Some may import prescription drugs from foreign countries that lack regulations protecting the quality of the medications. In that sense, a consumer may receive what appears to be the correct medication, but not the strength or potency of medication that they require. For people with critical medication needs, this can be a grave concern. Legislation that would regulate the sale of prescription medications online, called the Online Pharmacy Safety Act of 2011, is pending in both houses of the U.S. Congress. Organizations like the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and the Missouri Board of Pharmacy can help determine if an online pharmacy is legitimate.

An additional risk is the inadvertent violation of federal drug laws. Federal law, through the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, bans the importation of controlled substances, including prescription medications, from other countries. With health care costs rising, online pharmacies based in Canada or other countries may present an appealing alternative to domestic pharmacies. While individual purchases of medications for personal use may not immediately attract the attention of law enforcement, it is important to know that it is illegal.

Last September, Google agreed to forfeit $500 million to the U.S. Department of Justice because of pharmacy advertisements that Google had allowed on its site. Google had reportedly allowed several Canadian online pharmacies to advertise to U.S. users through its AdWords program. This resulted in illegal importation of medications that lacked approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

People who have suffered injury due to a medication error in a pharmacy or hospital may be entitled to compensation for their damages. For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced Kansas City pharmacy error lawyer, contact Doug Horn at Horn Law today through our website or at (816) 795-7500.