The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a national campaign to help protect the public from fraudulent Internet pharmacies. According to the FDA, approximately one in four Internet consumers has purchased a prescription medicine online. Although there are reputable online sources, which are usually connected to actual retail pharmacies, there are also fake online pharmacies. These appear real to consumers but may sell counterfeit or adulterated drugs. This could mean that the patients don't achieve the therapeutic effect expected from the drug or that they experience adverse effects or become ill from the drug. Fake online pharmacies may also be scams to obtain personal and financial information about the consumers using the site. Signs that an online pharmacy isn't legitimate include selling prescription drugs without a prescription from a physician or NP, offering deep discounts or cheap prices (if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is), sending spam or other unsolicited e-mails offering cheap drugs, being located outside of the United States, and not being licensed in the United States.
According to the FDA, the following individuals might be likely to buy medication from an online pharmacy: those without adequate prescription coverage, those with lower incomes, those who need long-term maintenance medicine, those who seek “lifestyle medicines” (drugs that aren't considered medically necessary and are therefore not covered by insurance plans, such as antiobesity or erectile dysfunction agents), those who are looking for financial assistance with prescriptions for themselves or loved ones, and those who are accustomed to home delivery of medication but have met their insurance coverage limits for pharmaceuticals.
Nurses and other health care providers should have discussions with patients about where they intend to purchase their medications. Patients who want to use online pharmacies should be taught how to confirm the legitimacy of any online pharmacy prior to purchasing medications. The FDA has a dedicated Web page (http://1.usa.gov/NVbCAC) where consumers can find their state board of pharmacy's license database. In addition to confirming that a pharmacy has a state license, patients should confirm that it requires a valid prescription, provides a physical address and telephone number in the United States, and has a licensed pharmacist to answer questions.
Patient education materials related to the safe use of online pharmacies are available on the FDA Web site and can be downloaded and printed for free by clicking on the health care provider link: http://1.usa.gov/SjrjOF.