Playing Russian Roulette with online pharmacies: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it may not be a duck
First let me state that I was not snooping on my coworker. I work in a large office area that has many cubicles and very high ceilings. The acoustics in here are great–if you want an audience. This worker is in his late sixties, and he tends to speak loudly all the time. So it’s impossible not to overhear his conversations (unless I get up and leave my desk).
During this particular conversation with his wife, he was apparently instructing her to use her Medicare Part D benefit to fill an expensive prescription one time at the local pharmacy. After that one time, he advised, she could fill the script through an online pharmacy to save money.
I wanted to jump over my cubicle right there and then and warn him of the dangers of using online pharmacies, many of which are stocking their “shelves” with unsafe, counterfeit drugs. I restrained myself, and decided to blog on the subject instead.
In March 2011, CBS’ 60 Minutes reported on the proliferation of counterfeit drug makers, who often use ingredients such as highway paint, floor wax, and boric acid to keep prices down. According to the report, many of these drugs are sold by rogue Internet pharmacies, including those that claim to be real Canadian pharmacies but are in fact not legitimate and not based in Canada. The abundance of fake drugs is in fact so great that any consumer who purchases drugs through an online pharmacy is playing Russian roulette.
During a raid on a fake drug manufacturing plant in Lima, Peru, a global security team made up of former FBI, Homeland Security, and narcotics agents, and headed by John Clark of Pfizer, discovered counterfeit Pfizer drugs lying in dirty pans in a filthy apartment. “If the consumer ever realized that products that they’re putting inside their bodies come from this, from dirty water…insects and everything else getting into it…I think they’d be horrified,” Clark said.
The issue of illegitimate online pharmacies is of such great concern in this country that combating these fake drug sellers has even garnered bipartisan support. This week, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) introduced the Online Pharmacy Safety Act of 2011 to stop criminals from exploiting the Internet to illegally sell prescription drugs. The legislation targets fraud associated with illegitimate online drug sellers, particularly those who sell counterfeit drugs, provide drugs without a prescription, or take money without providing anything in return. The bill, which requires the Food and Drug Administration to establish a registry of legitimate online pharmacy websites, is co-sponsored by Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Better options to lower your drug costs
There are much better ways to lower your drug costs than by filling your prescriptions through online pharmacies. Using lower-cost generic drugs or legitimate mail-order pharmacies owned and operated by U.S. health plans and pharmacy benefit managers are two of the best ways to save. Discount prescription drug cards and prescription savings programs are also helpful if you are not yet eligible for Medicare, or you can check with your state to see if it offers help paying drug plan premiums and/or other drug costs.
Medicare and Social Security have a program for people with limited income and resources that helps you pay for your prescription drugs. If you qualify, you could pay between $1 and $6 for each drug. To apply, visit www.socialsecurity.gov or call 1-800-772-1213. TTY users should call 1-800-325-0778.