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8/22/2000

FDA Publishes Guide to Buying Meds Online

Cheryl A. Thompson

To help consumers understand the ins and outs of buying medications from Internet pharmacies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created an online buyers' guide.

"Buying Medical Products Online" offers information on balancing the convenience and privacy of purchasing medications through the Internet with consumers' need to protect their health and wallets. FDA launched the project in tandem with President Clinton's announcement that he wanted to increase federal oversight of online pharmacies and educate the public about the potential dangers of buying prescription drugs online. 

Among the tips and warnings for consumers, the guide advises: "Don't do business with sites that have no access to a registered pharmacist to answer questions." Elsewhere, the buyers' guide includes articles from the agency's magazine FDA Consumer and answers to frequently asked questions about online pharmacies. The guide also encourages people to inform the FDA of Web sites that may be illegally selling human or animal drugs, medical devices, biological products, foods, dietary supplements, or cosmetics. 

The online buyers' guide appears to be part of the "public outreach" program described by FDA Commissioner Jane E. Henney, M.D., at a July 1999 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. At that time she outlined the FDA's action plan to help curb the illegal marketing of prescription drugs on the Internet. In December, Henney previewed the plans at ASHP's Midyear Clinical Meeting, in Orlando, Fla., where she was a speaker at the Opening General Session. 

Other parts of that action plan included expanding the FDA's enforcement efforts and partnering with federal and state-level groups and other organizations. This latter effort led to the signing of "Principles of Understanding" with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and the Federation of State Medical Boards. The principles, which include working with nonfederal groups to address domestic Internet sales of prescription drugs, were endorsed by the ASHP Board of Directors at its November 1999 meeting.