Skip to content
Font Size
A
A
A

The Online Pharmacy Phenomenon


WebMD Feature

Since 1998, there has been explosive growth in the number of Web sites offering to fill prescriptions or sell medications. But the proliferation of Internet prescriptions is sounding alarm bells for doctors, pharmacists and health authorities nationwide because of a lack of standards -- even illegal practices -- at some Web sites.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) estimates there are at least 400 Web sites dispensing prescriptions in the United States. No one knows how many of these online pharmacies exist worldwide.

Recommended Related to Drugs and Herbs

Off-Label Drug Use: What You Need to Know

The next time your doctor writes you a prescription, consider this: The medication may not be approved for your specific condition or age group. But you probably shouldn't call the medical board. The practice, called "off-label" prescribing, is entirely legal and very common. More than one in five outpatient prescriptions written in the U.S. are for off-label therapies. "Off-label" means the medication is being used in a manner not specified in the FDA's approved packaging label, or insert. Every...

Read the Off-Label Drug Use: What You Need to Know article > >

More Regulation Needed

The advantage of Internet prescriptions is convenience. With a few keystrokes on the computer, prescriptions are filled and delivered by mail or can be picked up at a local pharmacy. Internet prescriptions are especially useful for seniors and people with disabilities who may have difficulty leaving the house.

But Web sites have offered the impotence drug Viagra, the allergy medicine Claritin and the anti-baldness pill Propecia without patients ever seeing a doctor, says Carmen Catizone, executive director of the NABP.

For example, a California Web site was dispensing hundreds of Viagra prescriptions per week to people who filled out brief medical questionnaires but never saw a doctor. The patients' responses were supposedly forwarded to a doctor for prescription approval, but health authorities later discovered the "doctor" was actually a retired veterinarian in Mexico. The site has since been closed.

"For us, that's a very dangerous situation," says Catizone, whose association members are state agencies that regulate pharmacies and pharmacists.

The American Medical Association (AMA) recommends that before prescribing medication, doctors should take a patient's medical history and discuss the benefits, risks and side effects of the treatment. In most cases the AMA suggests that doctors physically examine a patient. Without a thorough consultation with a physician, taking a prescription drug like Viagra can be risky if a patient has heart problems or other medical risks, or is taking a medication with potentially harmful interactions.

Research before Purchase

If you want to get a prescription through the Internet, use a Web site affiliated with a pharmacy, Catizone suggests. Stay away from sites that offer to prescribe medicine if you just have to answer a few questions or undergo what he calls a "cyberspace consultation."

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

disciplining a boy
Types, symptoms, causes.
psoriasis
Does your kid have symptoms?
fruit drinks
Eat these to think better.
No gym workout
Moves to help control blood sugar.
acupuncture needle on shoulder
10 tips to look and feel good.
Close up of eye
12 reasons you're distracted.
Epinephrine Injection using Auto-Injector Syringe
Life-threatening triggers.
woman biting a big ice cube
Habits that wreck your teeth.
embarrassed woman
Do you feel guilty after eating?
pacemaker next to xray
Treatment options.
caregiver with parent
10 tips for daily life.
birth control pills
Which kind is right for you?

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.