The Office of the Attorney General protects consumers of prescription drugs in a number of ways. Drug manufacturers must honestly disclose risks associated with drugs, and they may not deceptively claim benefits that have not been established by research. Manufacturers must also comply with antitrust laws in marketing and pricing of prescription drugs.
Of particular concern in recent years is the sale of prescription drugs over the Internet. Consumers must take all the usual precautions recommended for shopping online. But there are additional factors to consider when shopping for medications.
Many online pharmacies are based in foreign countries. These pharmacies are not regulated by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other U.S. authority. The OAG and the Texas State Board of Pharmacy strongly discourage consumers from buying medicines from any online pharmacy that is not based in the United States.
There are several reasons for this. Drugs produced in foreign countries may not contain the ingredients, or may not be made according to the formulas, that your doctor expected when he or she prescribed the drug and the dosage.
The active ingredient content might be higher or lower than what the package indicates, or it may be a chemical substitute. US regulatory agencies guarantee standards in terms of content, expiration dates and other quality controls. With drugs produced in foreign countries and sold on the Internet, you cannot be so sure what you are getting.
When you take a chance on an inexpensive foreign product that you have bought online, you could lose your money. But when the product is a medicine that you need, you could damage your health. Many consumers struggle with the cost of prescription drugs, but getting a good price is secondary to managing a medical condition that requires a prescription drug.
If you choose to order drugs from an online pharmacy, they should only use those based in the U.S. and approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies (NABP) through its Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program.
Consumers should independently consult the VIPPS site to make sure they are dealing with an approved entity, and they should not rely solely on a Web site’s reassurance that it is approved by NABP or has the VIPPS logo.
Furthermore, even if the pharmacy is located in the United States, consumers should never deal with an entity that does not clearly state its physical location, the name and license number of the affiliated pharmacists, and the states which issued the licenses.
Another red flag is a Web site that fills out prescriptions based on a consumer’s responses to a questionnaire or a brief phone conversation with a purported pharmacist.
Under Texas law, those informal consultations could be illegal. There is no substitute for an in-person visit with a legitimate pharmacist or doctor. Steer clear of online merchants willing to sell you medications without a prescription, if you would need one to buy the same drugs at your local pharmacy. It is illegal to purchase controlled substances without a prescription.
Texans should also avoid Web sites that offer “miracle” drugs or advertise drastically reduced prices for what are normally expensive medications. Under no circumstances should you respond to unsolicited email offers for prescription drugs. These annoying advertisements are almost always sent by spammers in other countries selling medicines that quite possibly do not meet U.S. standards.
We also encourage you to consult with your local pharmacist or physician to help you understand which sites are legitimate. A pharmacist can also help reduce prescription drug costs by providing information on lower priced generic alternatives and various assistance programs for free or low-cost prescriptions, including those sponsored by drug manufacturers.
If you believe you have been scammed by an online pharmacy, you can file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General.
For more information about buying medications online, including product recalls, avoiding pitfalls and other updates:
Texas State Board of Pharmacy
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(888) INFO-FDA (888-463-6332)