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Buying Drugs Online.

Buying drugs from Canadian online pharmacies can equal big savings, but first know your sources.

Pharmaceutical Outsourcing continued...

"There are about 60 locations where the pharmaceutical industry manufactures all across the world," Albano tells WebMD. "Lipitor, for example, comes from Ireland, is manufactured and shipped to the United States and then shipped to Canada. And some Lipitor goes right from Ireland to Canada, so this whole notion that Canadian medications are not safe is simply ludicrous."

Barry Power, PharmD., director of practice development for the Ottawa-based Canadian Pharmacists Association tells WebMD that "most drugs are made in one or two global locations and then exported to all the countries, so even the term 'reimportation' is technically incorrect. And there are actually quite a few drugs that are made in Canada, so it's all just a matter of spin-doctoring in a lot of cases."

Mayor Albano had confidence in the source of the lower-cost drugs his city offered to municipal employees and retirees because he had done his homework, he says. "Before we started the program officially in Springfield, I went to Canada and went to the pharmacies. I spoke to the pharmacists, and then we started my son on his insulin and related products three months prior to the official beginning of the program. The idea was that it's a medication that you have to take precautions with, and I thought my public employees would realize that 'if it's good enough for the mayor's family, then it would be good enough for me.'"

As for the regulatory authorities, Albano says that the FDA made a lot of noise at the time the program was announced but took no real action to stop it. Since then, many city and state governments have implemented or announced similar plans. The FDA has continued to shy away from enforcing regulations in many cases.

Buyer Beware

But while buying cheaper drugs from reputable online pharmacists at home or abroad can save you plenty, obtaining drugs blindly from a site you've never heard of could also buy you major trouble. The FDA, Federal Trade Commission, and consumer watchdog groups warn that when you order from web sites you're not sure about, you could be getting counterfeit drugs that contain no active ingredients or even harmful substances.

Most consumers are smart enough to know that the "Rolex" watch offered by a street-corner peddler is sure to be a cheap knockoff. If you want the real thing, you go to a reputable jeweler down the street. But when the street is just one little block on the information superhighway, how can you tell whether you're dealing with a respectable storefront operation or a sidewalk hustler?

You only need to glance at the spam clogging your inbox to see that some charlatan somewhere -- whether it's in the Bahamas, Beijing, Africa, or Alabama -- is willing to take your money in exchange for drugs that promise to make your sex life better, grow hair on a billiard ball, double your lifespan, or let you eat deep-fried Twinkies while you watch the pounds melt away!

Some sites offer the chance to "buy drugs (FDA-approved prescription drugs) and other medications with NO prescription." Others promise that only a brief online or telephone consultation is needed. When Consumer Reports magazine senior editor Tod Marks went online to see what he could get without a valid prescription, he found this: "Without visiting or speaking to a doctor, Marks was able to buy seven different prescription drugs -- to help him lose weight, quit smoking, combat osteoporosis, and fight aging, depression, seasonal allergies, and bacterial infection. Except for the antihistamine, which might have helped his hay fever, Marks, a healthy 44-year-old nonsmoker, had no business taking those medications," the magazine reports.

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