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Report Cautions Consumers of Internet Prescription Drug Purchases

Cheryl A. Thompson

A new study of 46 Web sites that sell prescription drugs directly to the public carries a message warning the public of "ominous dangers posed by Internet drug purchases."

Researchers at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia discovered that 37 (33 based in the United States) of the 46 Web sites required a prescription from a personal physician or from an Internet physician consultation. Nine sites based outside of the United States sold prescription drugs without such requirement. They found that the overall cost of online medication purchase and physician consultation, sold separately, were higher than at pharmacies and general physician visits in Philadelphia. More important, the quality of physician Internet care without direct contact with the patients and the safety and purity of pharmaceutical products (especially from foreign sites) remained questionable. The authors were also concerned about the ease of serious abuse and the conflict of interests of the Internet firms that profit from both selling both medications and online physician consultations. 

In the accompanying editorial, officials of FDA notes that online physician consultation without direct examination does not meet the appropriate medical standard of care and online sales of prescription pharmaceuticals pose serious risk to the patients' health and safety. They warn against buying a prescription from an online pharmacy that does not hold a valid license from National Association of Boards of Pharmacy or does not offer access to a registered pharmacist. 

The report will be published in Annals of Internal Medicine in December 1999, but was released late last month and made available on the Internet because of its immediate implications to public health. The study and the accompanying editorial by officials of the Food and Drug Administration can be found at