FDA warns about rogue online pharmacies

Some websites selling unapproved/counterfeit meds

BALTIMORE (WMAR) - You can find almost anything cheaper online, and the same goes for prescriptions. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers about rogue online pharmacies. They promise steep discounts, but their pills may not be top quality.

“In the state of Maryland, we are governed essentially by the Board of Pharmacy and we do regular inspections. They make sure to check for expiration dates, they make sure [to check for] counterfeit medicines, they make sure that everything's tracked straight through the manufacturer to the wholesaler to the pharmacy itself,” said Kathy Vranek, assistant director of ambulatory pharmacy at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The safeguards are designed to ensure that you're getting what the doctor ordered and not a knock off.

“Best case scenario, it doesn't work that well for you. So you're paying for medicine that in the end didn't work. Worst case scenario, you end up with unintended side effects from it,” Vranek said.

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The FDA says there are many pharmacy websites that operate legally but then there's a list of more than 11,000 other sites the National Association of Board of Pharmacy considers suspicious.

Many claim to be in Canada even though the web address for one we found was “Buy-USA-Generic.” On top of that, the advertised savings are bogus.

Thirty pills of the antibiotic Zyvox costs around $130 locally. Online it's more than $200.

What is cheaper though is Viagra running around $3 per pill online versus $23 locally, but you don't get the drug counseling you would at the counter.

“The pharmacist can fully evaluate every single medication you’re on, look at the side effects, check more thoroughly for the drug interactions and it gives you a better picture of someone's overall health and gives you a better way to help manage their disease state,” Vranek said.

You can also save money through your insurer's mail-order pharmacy, however, don't discount the assurance that comes with having a conversation with your pharmacist.

“They've spoken to your doctor, they're right there in front of you. They're more accessible lots of times than your doctor is so yah, I think it's an underutilized resource,” said Vranek.

It also pays to have a relationship with your pharmacist. They can help find you discounts such as switching to a cheaper drug with the same effects, paying the cash price instead of your co-pay, or finding manufacturers’ coupons.

Most are also aware of various foundations that help people with certain diseases afford their medications.

All they ask is that you speak up. Let them know if you need to find a cheaper option and they may be able to help.

For more information on ways to check if an online pharmacy is safe or rogue, click here.

If you have a Matter for Mallory, you can email her at Mallory@wmar.com.

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