A 5-Part Guide to Help You Protect Your Health and Your Wallet
Too Good to Be True?
- Get prescription drugs fast--no doctor needed!
- Cure cancer with herbs!
- Zap your pain away with an amazing device!
- Absolutely safe--pull out your credit card NOW, and get rock-bottom prices.
It's not hard to find statements like these floating around in cyberspace. If they sound too good to be true, it's because they usually are.
Legitimate Vs. Illegal Web Sites
Many legitimate Web sites bring customers health products with the benefits of:
- cheaper prices (sometimes)
Consumers need to be aware that the Internet has also created a marketplace for:
- unapproved medical products
- illegal prescribing
- products marketed with fraudulent health claims
The unique qualities of the Internet pose challenges for enforcing federal and state laws, including:
- its broad reach
- relative anonymity
- ease of creating and removing Web sites
Many sites are connected to other sites and have multiple links, which makes investigations more complex. And there are jurisdictional challenges because the regulatory and enforcement issues cross state, federal, and international lines.
Government agencies work together to shut down illegal Web sites and prosecute criminals, but enforcement resources are limited. Consumers need to take some responsibility for recognizing suspicious sites and turning the other way.
So How Can You Spot The Red Flags?
Here's a guide to help you protect your health and your wallet.
How To Report Problems
To report a problem with a Web site selling human drugs, animal drugs, medical devices, biological products, foods, dietary supplements, or cosmetics:
- If the problem involves a serious or life-threatening situation, call your health care professional immediately for medical advice. To report the situation to the FDA, call (301) 443-1240.
- If the problem involves a serious reaction or problem, contact your health care professional for advice. To fill out the FDA's MedWatch reporting form, go to www.fda.gov/medwatch.
- For problems that do not involve a serious or life-threatening reaction, fill out the form at www.fda.gov/oc/buyonline/buyonlineform.htm.
- To report e-mails or Web sites promoting medical products that might be illegal, forward the material to email@example.com.
- To report false claims to the FTC, call (877) 382-4357.
- If you lose your money, contact the credit card company, your state attorney general's office, or the Better Business Bureau.
- FDA buying online page at www.fda.gov/buyonline/
FDA online guide: "Buying Prescription Medicines Online: A Consumer Safety Guide" at www.fda.gov/buyonlineguide
- FDA report on combating counterfeit drugs at www.fda.gov/counterfeit/
- List of dietary supplement ingredients for which the FDA has issued warnings
- List of enforcement actions taken against the promoters of products at http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/default.htm
In March 2004, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) voiced support of federal legislation that would protect consumers from dangerous Internet drug prescribing practices. "The Internet Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act" would remove the veil of secrecy surrounding many rogue Internet pharmacies and the physicians who serve them. The bill, which was introduced in early March 2004, targets domestic Internet pharmacies that sell drugs over the Internet without a valid prescription. These are the main provisions of the bill:
- Sites would be required to make specific disclosures of:
- the names of Internet prescribing physicians
- dispensing pharmacies
- the states in which practitioners are licensed
- contact information
- Sites would be barred from dispensing prescription drugs solely on the basis of an online questionnaire. An in-person medical evaluation would be required.
- State attorneys general would be allowed to go to federal court to enforce a nationwide injunction against illicit online pharmacies, rather than just in their individual jurisdictions.
- A companion bill, The Ryan Haight Act, also has been introduced. The bill is named for a teen-ager who died as a result of obtaining dangerous drugs over the Internet.
The FDA has not stated a position on the proposed legislation.