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Pharmacy News

Survey: One-third of consumers would ignore laws against buying from online pharmacies

According to a new survey from the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) Global Foundation, almost half of Americans gamble with their lives to buy medication from online sources—even though the overwhelming majority of them operate illegally. That’s just one of the alarming findings from the organization’s 2021 survey of American perceptions and use of online pharmacies, which was commissioned from Abacus Data.

Savings over safety
There are approximately 35,000 online pharmacies across the world, and 95% of them are rogue and unregulated. The products they sell are often counterfeit, tainted, or substandard and can harm patients or even kill them. Further, the survey revealed that consumers can’t distinguish safe, legal sites from sites operating in violation of U.S. law.

Respondents indicated that cost and convenience were the primary drivers of their use of unregulated online pharmacies. A false sense of security kept safety concerns to a minimum.That attitude flies in the face of APhA, ASOP Global, and other stakeholders’ warnings that the practice poses an unacceptable threat to patient health and well-being. Paradoxically, use of online pharmacies continues to accelerate—COVID-19 exacerbated the problem—despite Americans’ increasing awareness of its risks, which rose by six points in one year.

Misled, misinformed
United States’ drug importation policies contributed to the polled consumers’ illusion of safety. APhA has long opposed prescription drug importation schemes due to patient safety and drug supply chain–integrity concerns.

Forty-five percent of survey respondents “erroneously believe that there are safety nets in place to ensure all websites offering health care services and/or prescription medications are safe, verified, and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or have state regulatory approval,” ASOP Global wrote in a statement.

Many falsely believe that all Canadian medicines sold over the web are authentic and legitimate. The group posited that policies like “FDA’s Importation of Prescription Drugs Final Rule, which allows for the wholesale importation of drugs from Canada, may be creating a false sense of security about the safety, access, and savings offered when buying alleged Canadian medicines online.”

Laws prohibiting individuals from purchasing drugs from Canadian online pharmacies were no deterrent for more than a third of the survey respondents. Almost 35% of those polled said they’d likely continue to buy from outlaws on the web regardless of the FDA rule that forbids it.

Education in pharmacies
Pharmacists can help ease the problem, said APhA Senior Vice President of Pharmacy Practice and Government Affairs Ilisa Bernstein, PharmD, JD, FAPhA. Bernstein sits on ASOP Global’s Board of Directors. “As trusted messengers, health care professionals play a critical role in directing Americans to legitimate online pharmacies and resources that help patients stay safe and save money.”

To steer your patients in the right direction, urge them to visit FDA’s BeSafeRx to learn about how to safely buy medicine online. ASOP Global also offers helpful resources to stay safe.

Rachel Balick, senior reporter

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