AS WE AGE: Beware when buying medicines online

The Internet has made it possible for consumers to buy just about anything without ever leaving their homes. Whether looking for a pizza or a car, consumers can find whatever they need with a few clicks of the mouse.

But buying merchandise online always comes with a degree of risk, and that’s especially so when buying medicine over the Internet. Not all web sites that sell medicine are trustworthy, and many physicians feel buying medicine online is never a viable option. Recognizing the risk involved in such a transaction, here is some advice to consumers considering purchasing medicines over the Internet.

Learn about medicines before ordering

Consumers should learn as much as possible about the medicines they plan to purchase before placing an order. Know what the medicine looks like, including its colour, texture, shape, and packaging. If the medicine has a particular taste or smell, make note of that before taking any medication purchased over the Internet.

Know what you’re buying

Many web sites that sell medicine are perfectly legal and trustworthy. However, just as many, if not more, web sites sell medicine that has not been checked or approved by Health Canada. These drugs might contain the wrong active ingredient or too much or too little of the active ingredient, making them ineffective and possibly even deadly. These faulty sites appear just as credible as their legitimate counterparts, but sell ineffective or dangerous drugs to consumers who don’t know what they’re getting in return.

In an effort to increase awareness among consumers purchasing medicine online, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) purchased and analyzed a host of products that were sold online as Tamiflu, which is used to treat some types of influenza infection. The active ingredient in Tamiflu is oseltamivir, but in one package purchased by the FDA online the drug they received as Tamiflu contained none of the active ingredient oseltamivir. Similar problems were reported by consumers who purchased Ambien, Xanax, Lexapro, and Ativan over the Internet. Instead of receiving these drugs, consumers received products containing the foreign version of Haldol, a powerful anti-psychotic drug that sent consumers to the emergency room, where they were treated for a host of ailments.

Here’s what Health Canada suggests to minimize the risk when purchasing medications online.

Do not do business with a Web site that:

• refuses to give you a street address, telephone number, and a way of contacting a pharmacist;

• offers prescription drugs without a prescription, or offers to issue a prescription based on answers to an on-line questionnaire;

• claims to have a “miracle cure” for any serious condition; or

• sells products that do not have a DIN (Drug Identification Number) issued by Health Canada.

Do make sure you are dealing with a Canadian-based Web site that is linked to a “bricks and mortar” pharmacy that meets the regulatory requirements in your province/territory.

Finally, if you have a question or complaint about therapeutic drug products purchased on line, call Health Canada’s toll-free hotline: 1-800-267-9675.

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