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Online Prescriptions: Do You Know What You’re Getting?

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Cheap generic drugs! Tramadol prescriptions online. No prescription needed.
These are the kind of headlines you’ll find when trolling the Internet for prescription drugs. A few clicks of the mouse and you can get virtually anything you want – powerful narcotic painkillers, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, mood stabilizers, uppers, weight management drugs and more.
While there are some sites that legitimately dispense drugs for patients who need them, the validity of others is questionable. The Internet has become a virtual marketplace for just about everything.
The convenience of buying from home appeals to many. But when it comes to prescription drugs, the government is concerned that many consumers aren’t getting what they’re paying for. And worse, some could be receiving potentially dangerous drugs in their place.


In June 2004, the Government Accountability Office found during an investigation that agents were able to get most of the drugs they tried to get online, without a prescription. Some of these drugs even had special safety restrictions or were addictive, narcotic painkillers.
A report released this year by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University says
“85% of web sites selling prescription drugs like OxyContin, Valium and Ritalin don’t ask for a prescription.”
A major problem is that some of these sites dispense drugs to anyone, of any age. Also, addiction to prescription painkillers is on the rise, making it easy for addicts to get powerful controlled substances like oxycodone, hydrocodone, Suboxone and Fentanyl.
The broad reach of the Internet makes it difficult to police. There are also jurisdictional issues for law enforcement, making it difficult to enforce state and federal laws. In order to be a valid prescription in the U.S., it must address a legitimate medical need, be written by a physician or other health care provider and be based on an actual doctor-patient relationship.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that drugs bought on the Internet can be outdated, contaminated, too potent, not strong enough, counterfeit or the wrong prescription altogether. The agency has dealt with customers who reported paying for drugs online and never receiving them, people who received the wrong prescription and others who took what they received and experienced worsening symptoms.
Some illegal sites dispensing drugs do so after requiring nothing more than for customers to fill out an online questionnaire. Some say they offer online “doctor consultations.” The FDA says drugs imported from outside the U.S. cannot be guaranteed for safety or validity.
In July 2004, the FDA said investigators bought Viagra, Lipitor and Ambien from a site called “Canadian generics,” and that all were fake and potentially dangerous. The FDA recommends buying only from state licensed online pharmacies in the U.S. When shopping for drugs online, the agency says to be wary in the following cases:

  • If there is no way to call the website pharmacy by phone
  • If prices are drastically lower than what competitors are offering
  • If no prescription is required

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