When it comes to purchasing prescription medicine online, convenience does not outweigh the risks, said Karl Fiebelkorn, MBA, RPh, of the University at Buffalo (UB).
Only 3 percent of online pharmacies are safe and legal, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The World Health Organization reports that half of medicines sold online are counterfeit, sometimes containing substances such as drywall, lead, or boric acid.
Yet data from the 2015 Pharmacy Satisfaction PULSE survey by pharmaceutical manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim shows online pharmacies fill 18 percent of the nation’s prescriptions.
After sending in their prescriptions and insurance information, patients receive their medication in the mail, often at what they believe are lower prices, said Fiebelkorn.
However, data from the National Community Pharmacists Association found the notion is untrue, since community pharmacies may offer comparable prices and are more likely to substitute lower-cost generic drugs.
Patients looking to cut healthcare costs by shopping online for their medicine also run the risk of giving their local pharmacist a fragmented picture of their drug regimen when they need a drug for an acute condition, he said.
“Your local pharmacist monitors your medication patterns for adherence and dangerous drug interactions, and works with your primary healthcare provider to make sure you obtain the medication that is right for you and your budget,” said Fiebelkorn.
Although many mail-order medicine retailers list contact information for staff pharmacists, patients may experience common customer service issues such as long hold times and repeated transfers to have issues addressed—problems that could be solved in minutes at a community pharmacy, he said.
Local pharmacists, he added, also support patients during their transition from the hospital to their home by reconciling medication, which helps reduce the likelihood of hospital readmission after discharge.
Transportation of medication poses other risks as well. Extended exposure to weather extremes can cause medicine to become ineffective, said Fiebelkorn. Extremely cold temperatures or sweltering heat can negatively effect even tablet forms of drugs that sit inside a mailbox or delivery truck for a few hours. Shipment delays can also cause patients to run out of their medication.
Fiebelkorn suggests consumers check the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s list of Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (http://tinyurl.com/heghfpj) before dealing with an online pharmacy to ensure the retailer meets national standards.
This article was adapted from information provided by UB.