Pharmacy Times

Prescription Drugs on the Internet

Author: Cmdr John Burke

    As most of you likely do, I receive several e-mails a week trying to sell me a variety of prescription drugs. The usual offers involve sildenafil (Viagra), finasteride (Propecia), phentermine, and other pharmaceuticals?usually at extremely high prices. I received an e-mail recently that advertised low prices due to ?fall specials.? I did not know that there were seasonal pricing specials on pharmaceuticals, but why not?

    These e-mails will provide you with a very short form to fill out, answering some basic health questions about yourself. Of course, they also ask for your personal information, and, most important, your credit card number and expiration date. A few may offer you a chance to e-mail back, but no mailing address or telephone number will be listed.

    Several years ago, a Michigan television anchor decided to attempt to obtain some of the pharmaceuticals offered on the Internet for her pet cat. She ordered Viagra for her neutered cat, which was 9 years old. She was totally truthful about her cat?s age and sexual alteration when applying online for the drug. She also listed a valid Visa card. She received her tablets in a week.

    These offers all have 1 theme in common: there is no legitimate doctor - patient relationship needed for a practitioner to prescribe pharmaceuticals. Often the practitioner is a physician who has already been sanctioned in several states, or is practicing outside the United States. The same may be true for the pharmacists who dispense these drugs. These prescription drugs are illegal in the United States, because no legitimate prescription was obtained for them to be dispensed.

    Several of these Internet criminals have been investigated, prosecuted, and convicted by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies over the past few years. Prosecuting these offenders has become a more difficult task, however, since the perpetrators now operate almost exclusively outside our country.

    The so - called physician may be in the Philippines, the pharmacy in Haiti, and the Web site based in yet a third country. The Web site may exist for only a few weeks or months, as thousands of dollars of illegal prescription drugs are distributed in the United States each day.

    Prosecuting these worldwide operations is difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement officials in the United States. The FDA has the unenviable responsibility of attempting to stop the flow of these illegal drugs from outside the country. Identifying the Web site location and operators and obtaining the cooperation of other countries is oftentimes very difficult.

    In the meantime, thousands of citizens of our country are purchasing prescription drugs from the Internet. Not only is this a dangerous proposition without a physical examination and consultation with a physician, but also there is no certainty as to the contents of the pharmaceuticals. The possibility of the use of counterfeit drugs in these operations is very high, with no one to complain to when it occurs. In addition, no legitimate pharmacist is available to advise the patient about possible drug interactions, or to explain any cautionary measures the patient may need to adhere to for maximum safety.

    Package interdiction detects a small amount of these drugs entering the country illegally, but it represents only a fraction of the transactions. More needs to be done to decrease the demand for these drugs, and to make these online purchasers realize that they are violating the law. Once they obtain the pharmaceuticals, they are subject to being charged in most states with drug crimes. It is hard to believe that most purchasers are not aware that their behavior is suspect. Why else would these people pay exorbitant prices for drugs from health professionals they have never met?

    Perhaps a massive educational program needs to be conducted, with a period of amnesty for offenders. This education could be centered on the importance of people seeing a licensed practitioner in person, and taking the prescription to a reputable pharmacy. The dangers of counterfeit pharmaceuticals also should be stressed, with information regarding possible criminal charges for those who continue to provide the demand for this supply.