An American Doctor’s Position on International Online Pharmacies

The Philadelphia Inquirer continues to cover the issue of high drug prices in the U.S. with an article about Americans purchasing medication from international online pharmacies. The “Ins, outs of getting meds overseas” provides useful information for consumers, most importantly that Americans ordering medication internationally should only do so from credentialed online pharmacies and that the FDA, despite technical prohibitions on personal drug importation, does not prosecute Americans for doing so.

I was particularly intrigued by the remarks of one physician when asked about his patients buying medication from international online pharmacies. He sheds a lot of light on two issues: 1) the serious health crisis surrounding Americans not adhering to prescriptions (not taking their meds) because of high drug costs, and 2) the fundamental difference between online pharmacies that require a prescription and those that don’t. In describing his conversation with cardiologist David Becker, journalist Paul Jablow writes:

When patients ask him to give them a written prescription rather than sending the scripts electronically to a pharmacy, he says he assumes they’re buying overseas from a reputable pharmacy, and “I have no problem with that.” What concerns him more, he says, are the patients who come to him and say they’ve been neglecting their medications for months.

While we would strongly caution a consumer against buying prescription drugs from an online pharmacy that was not verified by an experienced credentialing organization, the doctor’s assumption of safety is somewhat warranted. That’s because, unlike Americans risking their health by seeking medications online without a prescription from rouge online pharmacies, his patients have real prescriptions. Prescription requirement is a very strong indication of, but not necessarily a guarantee of, an online pharmacy’s safety. Dr. Becker is apparently aware of this and his greatest concern is where the focus of more healthcare professionals needs to be: drug affordability.

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