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Possible Dangers of Buying Medicines Over the Internet

Know Your Medicines

Before you get any new medicine for the first time, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any special steps you need to take to fill your prescription.

Any time you get a prescription refilled

  • Check the physical appearance of the medicine (color, texture, shape, and packaging).
  • Check to see if it smells and tastes the same when you use it.
  • Alert your pharmacist or whoever is providing treatment to anything that is different.

Be aware that some drugs sold online

  • are too old, too strong, or too weak
  • aren't FDA-approved
  • aren't made using safe standards
  • aren't safe to use with other medicines or products
  • aren't labeled, stored, or shipped correctly
  • may be counterfeit

Counterfeit Drugs

Counterfeit drugs are fake or copycat products that can be difficult to identify. The deliberate and fraudulent practice of counterfeiting can apply to both brand name and generic products, where the identity of the source is often mislabeled in a way that suggests it is the authentic approved product.

Counterfeit drugs may

  • be contaminated
  • not help the condition or disease the medicine is intended to treat
  • lead to dangerous side effects
  • contain the wrong active ingredient
  • be made with the wrong amounts of ingredients
  • contain no active ingredients at all or contain too much of an active ingredient
  • be packaged in phony packaging that looks legitimate

For example, counterfeit versions of the FDA-approved weight loss drug Xenical, which contains the active ingredient orlistat, recently were obtained by three consumers from two different Web sites.

Laboratory analysis showed that the capsules that the consumers received contained the wrong active ingredient, sibutramine. Sibutramine is the active ingredient of a different medicine called Meridia, a prescription drug also approved by FDA to help obese people lose weight and maintain weight loss. In addition, sibutramine is classified as a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) because of its potential for abuse and misuse.

Using medicine that contains an active ingredient that wasn't prescribed by your licensed health care provider may be harmful.

FDA also became aware recently of a number of people who placed orders over the Internet for one of the following products:

  • Ambien (zolpidem tartrate)
  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram oxalate)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)

Instead of receiving the drug they ordered, several customers received a product that contained haloperidol, a powerful anti-psychotic drug. As a result, these customers needed emergency medical treatment for symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, muscle spasms, and muscle stiffness-all problems that can occur with haloperidol.
FDA continues to proactively protect consumers from counterfeit drugs. The agency is working with drug manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to identify and prevent counterfeit drugs. FDA also is exploring the use of modern technologies and other measures that will make it more difficult for counterfeit drugs to get mixed up with, or deliberately substituted for, safe and effective medicines.

WebMD Public Information from the FDA