Prescription Drugs From Overseas Can Save You Hundreds, but Are They Safe?


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Despite scary warnings, there are ways to assess online pharmacy sources to be confident about their safety. Here are six tips to follow.

We bet you’ve thought about combatting skyrocketing drug prices by using an overseas pharmacy, but hesitate because you’re worried those inexpensive medications aren’t safe.

Your concern is understandable. We’ve told you about potentially deadly counterfeit medications. But there are several services you can rely on to give you the straight information about overseas pharmacies and their products before you order. And there are telltale signals you can use to determine if a pharmacy is reputable.

Why go through all of this trouble? Because buying from a reputable, overseas pharmacy can translate into hundreds if not thousands of dollars in savings.

Drug manufacturers set their own prices, and those prices have been rising for all classes of drugs sold in the United States. Drug prices increased 10 percent just in 2015, following a similar increase the year before, The Washington Post reported.

“There are plenty of safe, international pharmacies. To conflate them with dangerous, drug-selling sites is just wrong,” said Tod Cooperman, M.D., who heads PharmacyChecker.com, which vets overseas pharmacies for legitimacy.

Cooperman says scare tactics are used to convince consumers to buy only in the United States, at a much higher cost. “There are even statements such as ‘counterfeit drugs are responsible for up to one million deaths worldwide,'” he adds. “I would ask how many of those deaths were caused by taking a drug [for which one] had a prescription?”

A report published by Consumer Reports noted that in June 2014 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “took action against more than 1,050 sites, seizing products being sold fraudulently as FDA-approved prescription drugs and medical devices.”

But it’s important to note that there are a host of reasons the FDA might deems a prescription drug or medical device fraudulent, including labeling, said Cooperman.

Gabriel Levitt, the president of PharmacyChecker said that while there is no question that rogue pharmacies exist, many online international pharmacies provide safe and cost-effective medications to many who would otherwise go without. He cautioned consumers to not only consider the validity of the pharmacies, but also to question the motives of those that warn against them. The ultimate stakeholders, U.S. drug companies, fund some sites that scare consumers away from valid but less expensive pharmacies.

The stakes are very high: An estimated 60 percent of Americans take prescription drugs, according The Washington Post.

“There are legitimate online pharmacies,” Lyndsay Meyer, an FDA spokeswoman told Consumer Reports in an article funded by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin). “But consumers need to be careful and know what to look for.”

Here are six ways to ascertain whether an overseas or online pharmacy is safe:

  1. Verify a prescription is required. Any pharmacy that waives a prescription is not to be trusted. Wonder how to do that? Call and ask if a prescription is needed. That’s what verification services do.
  2. Look at the pharmacy license. A valid pharmaceutical license for the state to which they will sell the drugs is a must-have.
  3. Scrutinize the website address. Does it end in “.pharmacy”? Does it have the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) seal? Both are indicative of legitimate pharmacies.
  4. Look for a physical address. Most fraudulent online pharmacies conceal their locations. Reputable ones never do. Check.
  5. Double-check verification resources. Who funds them? What are the qualifications of those that analyze pharmacies? How are the analyses done? Read the websites thoroughly, and then look for news stories and other public information about them.
  6. Check a few verification sites. Attorney Libby Baney heads the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies. The alliance joined with the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies and the National Consumers League to launch XTheRisk, a campaign to educate seniors about unethical pharmacies. Major pharmaceutical firms and other stakeholders are among the funding sources for the partners. “We have a board that is very diverse,” she said, “that includes pharmaceutical companies but also [those from the] U.S. Department of Commerce, educators, pharmacists and other stakeholders.” Cooperman’s group is independent. Best bet? Check the pharmacy you want to use on several sites. If the reports differ, dig deeper.

What is your experience with prescription medication costs? Have you purchased from overseas? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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