Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Be Careful Buying Drugs on the Internet

From Medscape News:

US FDA Finds Fake, Subpotent Drugs Online

WASHINGTON (Reuters) Jul 14 - A Web site advertising "Canadian generic" drugs shipped fake, contaminated or substandard versions of three commonly prescribed medicines, U.S. regulators said on Tuesday.

Food and Drug Administration investigators ordered generic versions of Pfizer Inc.'s impotence pill Viagra and cholesterol-fighter Lipitor, as well as Sanofi-Synthelabo's sleeping pill Ambien.

The Web site "shipped drugs that were the wrong strength, including some that were substantially super-potent and that pose real health risks as a result," Acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Lester Crawford said.

Some of the pills were drugs that "contained contaminants" or should not have been given because of potentially dangerous interactions with other medicines, Crawford added.

The FDA did not identify the Web site but said it had been sending "spam" e-mail to consumers touting its products.

Despite frequent government warnings about safety risks, buying cheaper drugs online is a growing trend as drug costs rise and more Americans lose health insurance.

Advocates of drug importation say the FDA is exaggerating risks, particularly for medicines bought in Canada. Congress is considering legislation to set up a legal system for importing prescription drugs from certain countries.

The FDA said its recent purchases showed consumers can be misled "even where a Web site looks legitimate."

Comment: unfortunately, it is all too easy for unscrupulous persons to devise a web site that "looks legitimate."  Most consumers have no way to analyze whatever they receive in the mail to see if it is the correct product with the correct strength and with acceptable purity.  The FDA web site  provides some additional information:

Viagra is sold in the U.S. to treat impotence. The so-called "generic" version of this product also contained too little of the active ingredient, failed the dissolution test, and had an unacceptable level of impurities. Although subpotent "generic" Viagra may not place patients at additional risk, the purchaser informed the firm in its on-line questionnaire that he was taking Erythromycin. Use of Viagra in patients taking Erythromycin is contraindicated. 

Unfortunately, the FDA site does not tell us how many on-line pharmacies they tried, or how many products were tested.  It could be that they ran thousands of tests and found only these three problems. 

One thing that is helpful about the FDA site is that they have a page  that provides advice on using on-line pharmacies.  They also provide a link for reporting suspected illegal sites.