Medical Moment: The dangers of online prescriptions

Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 5:33 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - One in three Americans say they don’t take their medications as prescribed because they can’t afford to. Rising costs, coupled with high health insurance deductibles have some Americans turning to the internet...

But buyers need to be beware, the search for life-saving drugs can have life-threatening consequences.

Buying prescription medicine from fraudulent online pharmacies can be dangerous, or even deadly. At best, counterfeit medicines are fakes of approved drugs and should be considered unsafe and ineffective.

These medicines may be less effective or have unexpected side effects. In addition to health risks, most fraudulent online pharmacies may put your personal and financial information at risk. Some intentionally misuse the information you provide. These sites may infect your computer with viruses, and they may sell your information to other illegal websites and Internet scams.

“One of the things we have is a project where we order prescription drugs from online pharmacies, analyze them, and see what you’re actually getting,” said forensic scientist Elizabeth Gardner.

Researchers found some online pharmacies were fake storefronts running scams with expired or unidentified, potentially dangerous chemicals. Some of the tested drugs were inconsistent.

“It did contain the active ingredient, but when we quantified it, we were supposed to be receiving pills that contained 20 milligrams,” Dr. Gardner continued. “And they contained anywhere from 18 to 41 milligrams.”

That means consumers were either getting less than they needed or a higher dose than recommended.

The safest bets? The FDA recommends consumers buy from verified online sources related to their individual health plans, or their “brick and mortar” pharmacy.

A new law in Florida allows healthcare providers to prescribe many controlled substances via telemedicine, pushing the Sunshine State to the head of the pack in a heavily debated virtual care service.

SB 312, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, enabled providers to use telemedicine to prescribe all but Schedule II drugs, while those prescriptions will be allowed via telemedicine if they meet one of four exceptions. Florida law had previously prohibited the prescribing of controlled substances via telemedicine except for a few situations. The new law amends Florida’s state statutes to allow providers to prescribe a controlled substance. That allowance is limited for Schedule II drugs to the treatment of a psychiatric disorder, inpatient treatment at a licensed hospital, hospice services, and treatment for residents in a nursing home.

It puts Florida ahead of many states whose legislatures are still grappling with the idea of allowing doctors to remotely prescribe controlled medications.

Opponents say the service offers too many opportunities for abuse, while supporters say it’s a key component to improving clinical outcomes for underserved populations and others who can’t or won’t visit their doctor on a regular basis.

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