Other indicators include:
Explore This IssueOctober 2012
- Packaging materials in an unexpected language;
- Spelling or grammatical errors on the insert or the outside packaging;
- Packages that are in poor condition;
- Seals that are not intact; and
- A product look, color or consistency that does not match what you have seen previously.
“Price should be another red flag,” noted Kent. “There is a reason that these drugs are being sold so cheaply. They are not having to pay the costs associated with a regulated supply chain that produces a secure product.”
For the physician-administered medications, there are liability concerns that accrue when buying medications outside normal channels.
“It is a very high-risk activity,” said Dr. Mollo. “It brings exposure to malpractice if the medication is adulterated or the wrong strength. There is also the potential for criminal liability when submitting payment claims if products are not approved for use in the U.S.”
Diverting medication samples sits at the cusp of legal and illegal uses. On the one hand, samples obtained from the pharmaceutical company or their proxies most often flow through legitimate markets. On the other, selling medications obtained for free constitutes fraud when paid for by Medicare, Medicaid or insurance companies.
The rise of mail order and Internet-based sources for medications has further muddied the waters, especially when patients are involved. Although many of these advertise cheap medicines, it is very much a buyer-beware endeavor.
“The FDA advises consumers to use caution when buying prescription medicines online, as many websites that appear to be reputable and similar to legitimate retail pharmacies actually operate from outside the United States,” said Clark-Lynn. “It is very easy for these online resellers to pretend to be from Canada or another country when they are really operating from the far reaches of the globe. Although a country may have a strong regulatory process, U.S. consumers cannot rely on the fact that the products they are buying have been approved in that country.”
Internet and Mail Order Sources
The experts agree that the Internet sites of established national, regional and local pharmacies are as safe as their brick-and-mortar affiliates. A person can also confidently use the mail order outlets of these companies and any mail order pharmacies endorsed by their insurance companies.
The FDA recommends that physicians suggest to their patients that they buy only from pharmacies that are located in the U.S. and are licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the pharmacy is operating. The pharmacy should require a prescription from a physician or other appropriately licensed practitioner before sending the medications. Finally, it should provide contact information that allows the consumer to talk to a pharmacist if they have problems or questions. Additional information about buying prescription drugs over the Internet can be found online at www.fda.gov/drugs.