Today, millions of people in the United States struggle to pay for their prescriptions. Many end up not filling prescriptions or skipping doses. Drug prices are too high, particularly for people with costly and complex conditions. Federal law prohibits people from buying their drugs from international online pharmacies, though millions of Americans do because they offer far lower prices. Should you use online pharmacies to save money? Can you buy safe drugs from international online pharmacies?
To answer these questions, I interviewed Kelly Ann Barnes, JD, RPh, Vice President of PharmacyChecker.com, which verifies online pharmacies, including international online pharmacies. Prior to joining PharmacyChecker.com, Kelly was Director of Pharmacy Quality Assurance for the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy.
Are there international online pharmacies that offer safe drugs?
Yes. Much like pharmacies in the United States, pharmacies in other countries are regulated by pharmaceutical laws with oversight and enforcement from regulators. These pharmacies must follow safety requirements for the handling and dispensing of medications, including the requirement to only dispense lawfully manufactured medications produced under “Good Manufacturing Practices” or GMP.
According to the World Health Organization, “A GMP is a system for ensuring that products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards. It is designed to minimize the risks involved in any pharmaceutical production that cannot be eliminated through testing the final product.”
How do you know whether an international online pharmacy offers safe drugs?
Media stories about online pharmacies, particularly in Canada or overseas, often focus on bad actors or “rogue pharmacies” preying on patients, so it can be hard for people in the U.S. to know whether there are safe options to buy affordable drugs online.
At PharmacyChecker.com, we verify the credentials of international online pharmacies to ensure they meet high standards of pharmacy practice and focus on patient safety as their priority. The ones we verify sell regulated drugs to consumers who have valid prescriptions. Prices at these pharmacies are usually much lower than in the U.S.
How do you verify online pharmacies?
Online pharmacies listed on PharmacyChecker.com and authorized to publish the PharmacyChecker.com Seal have demonstrated that they meet high standards of pharmacy practice.
I or another pharmacist conduct onsite pharmacy inspections in countries which have high standards of pharmacy practice but have less enforcement than in the U.S. — to be sure of the pharmacy’s adherence to high standards of practice.
Before approving an online pharmacy, I or another member of our staff also “mystery shops” by posing as a consumer on the pharmacy website to check the pharmacy’s adherence to our requirements. Pharmacies that ship controlled substances, such as oxycodone or Valium, internationally into the U.S, are not eligible for our program.
We conduct ongoing compliance checks to ensure that online pharmacies in our program continue to meet our verification standards. Pharmacy licenses are generally re-verified every three months. All online pharmacy qualification criteria are checked annually or more often.
Some organizations advise people only to use online pharmacies based in the US, and only those that display the “VIPPS” symbol, a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site, because international pharmacies may be selling low-quality or counterfeit products. What’s your reaction?
Yes, there are rogue pharmacies to be avoided. But, there are also highly reputable international pharmacies which have been helping millions of Americans for many years.
The VIPPS program is operated by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which will not certify any non-U.S. pharmacy that sells medication into the U.S., regardless of the pharmacy’s credentials.
Has any one ever reported being harmed from a drug bought from an online international pharmacy that PharmacyChecker.com has verified?
We have not received any reports of a patient being harmed by drugs bought from a pharmacy we verified.
How do you know that the pharmacies are dispensing legitimate drugs?
Like your local pharmacy, the international pharmacies in our program are obligated by law to sell lawfully manufactured, regulated medications. The standards met by pharmacies in the U.S. and in the countries in which we will verify a pharmacy are very similar. For example, pharmacies located in countries known to have the strongest pharmaceutical laws and enforcement efforts, such as Canada, New Zealand and the U.K. have similar oversight from their regulators as we have in the U.S. In other countries with strong laws but not as much oversight, such as India, we have established inspection criteria to ensure that pharmacy safety standards are being met.
Do you think U.S. law forbidding importation of drugs from outside the U.S. should be changed to help people in the U.S. afford medication without violating the law?
Yes, I do. I support any regulatory or legislative reform that expands lawful access to lower cost and safe medication.
What exactly does PharmacyChecker.com do?
PharmacyChecker.com provides people with a trusted and free source for finding lower drug prices among verified online pharmacies and local U.S. pharmacies and helps them avoid dangerous, rogue online pharmacies. By comparing medication prices on our site, consumers can save a lot of money – often more than 80% — buying medications from international online pharmacies. We also provide local U.S. pharmacy pricing that is available with a prescription discount card. Generic drugs are often very inexpensive in the U.S., and there’s no point looking internationally when the price is right here.
Essentially, we give people the information they need to save money safely when searching the Internet for lower cost medication.
For more information on PharmacyChecker.com, check out this column in The New York Times and this New York Times article, As Drug Prices Rise, Bending the Law is One Remedy. And, here’s what the FDA has to say about the legality of importing drugs from abroad for personal use.