WASHINGTON — The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global) has partnered with the American Medical Association (AMA), American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and 14 other national health care stakeholders to educate providers and patients about the surge in illegal online pharmacies and counterfeit medicines.
To that end, ASOP Global also launched BuySafeRx.pharmacy, a website providers, patients and caregivers can verify whether an Internet pharmacy site is safe and legal.
“Worth $200 billion a year, the market for counterfeit pharmaceuticals now eclipses almost everything else in the underground economy, including prostitution, human trafficking and illegal arms sales,” stated ASOP Global executive director Libby Baney. “The 6 million health care providers in the U.S. can play a significant role in educating patients about how widespread illegal online pharmacies are, the financial and health risks associated with purchasing medications online, and how to stay safe.”
Other pharmacy-focused participants in the campaign include the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Healthcare Distribution Alliance, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Purdue College of Pharmacy and National Council on Patient Information and Education.
“We should talk with patients about all of their medications, including how to purchase them from a safe source — especially if they are considering buying them online,” commented AMA president Andrew Gutman. “This will result in stronger patient-provider relationships and, most importantly, improved patient outcomes.”
ASOP Global and the Federation of State Medical Boards, another campaign partner, also worked with the Food and Drug Administration, University of California San Diego and LegitScript to develop “Internet Drug Sellers: What Providers Need to Know”, a free, online continuing education program for pharmacists and physicians.
To date, over 1,000 providers have participated in the program, ASOP reported. Before taking the course, less than 10% of providers said they were “very aware” that counterfeit prescription drugs are being sold on the Internet. And just 1.4% said they regularly discuss the risks of illicit online drug sellers with patients.
“The data clearly demonstrates how important it is for health care providers to be educated about this issue and have access to the tools and resources ASOP Global is providing to keep patients safe,” according to APhA executive vice president and chief executive officer Tom Menighan. “As medication experts and one of the most accessible members of the health care team, pharmacists have a unique opportunity to share those resources with their patients.”
Of more than 11,000 websites selling prescription drugs to U.S. consumers, about 96% do not comply with U.S. laws, a recent review by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy found. Also, half of medicines sold online from websites that hide their physical address are counterfeit, and 89% of illegal online pharmacies don’t require a prescription.
“The risks associated with buying prescription medicines from illegal online drug sellers marketing themselves as legitimate Internet pharmacies cannot be overstated,” Baney noted. “Counterfeit drugs often contain little or no active ingredients or, worse yet, dangerous and deadly poisons, including floor wax, mercury, concrete, chalk, boric acid, road tar, paint or antifreeze.”
According to a report issued earlier this year by ASOP Global and LegitScript, 65% of Web search results for prescription drugs lead U.S. consumers to illegal and unsafe websites, and 20 new Internet pharmacy websites are launched every day.
“In addition to the health risks, illegal pharmacy sites are often not secure, placing unknowing consumers at increased risk for fraud and identity theft by providing these criminal enterprises with personal and credit card information,” Baney added.