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Shopping online for prescription drugs can be cheaper, but dangerous

By Mary Richards | Posted - Apr 10th, 2013 @ 9:16am

SALT LAKE CITY — Though more people shop online for convenience and savings, Utah authorities are warning about one area consumers should be extra careful: prescription drugs.

The FDA estimates about a quarter of adults have purchased medicine online, and even though prescriptions may be cheaper when coming from Canada or Mexico, they may not be as safe.

"It's not a convenience if it ends up harming you in the end," said Erin Fox, director of drug information at the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics. "They can be medications from overseas, where we don't know if they were prepared properly. There can be particles or metal shavings."

Tips for buying prescriptions online
  • Make sure the site requires a prescription and has a pharmacist available for questions.
  • Buy only from licensed pharmacies located in the United States. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has more information about licensing and its program to certify online pharmacies.
  • Don't provide personal information such as credit card numbers unless you are sure the site will protect them.


She added that if it's not a reputable, approved site, consumers may not know what they are getting. Red flags include a drastically cheaper price and claims that the drugs can be bought without a prescription.

"There are very skilled counterfeiters out there, and it's a big business," she said.

One other issue is the transparency of the pharmacies. Fox said even if a pharmacy claims to be located in Canada or Mexico, there's often no proof and the company may be stealing personal information from customers.

As for drug formulas, non-approved pharmacies could be shipping dangerous or weakened prescriptions.

"They can contain weaker strengths of the same ingredient, or sometimes they contain other products that are actually quite dangerous. Or they can be expired," Fox said.

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