NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 8, 2004

Internet pharmacies are booming worldwide -- the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that there are about 1,000 in operation. However, many of them lack regulatory oversight and may be selling unsafe drugs to consumers.

According to Science magazine:

  • One-third of countries that produce drugs have strict regulations regarding labeling and formulation requirements, source of ingredients, processing methods and quality control.
  • An additional one-third of countries have regulations but little or no enforcement, while another one-third have no regulatory oversight.
  • Ten percent of the world's drug trade is in counterfeits; in some countries, such as Nigeria and Pakistan, counterfeit drugs account for 40 to 50 percent of drug sales.

One of the problems with purchasing Internet drugs is the variances found in the same drug among different countries. For example, researchers examined the drug Simvastatin and discovered differences among five different countries that manufactured it. In some cases, the active ingredients in the drug were not thoroughly blended, resulting in "clumps" of the ingredient throughout the pill. This could negatively impact patients who split pills in half.

The FDA has issued warnings about purchasing online drugs, but some consumer advocates argue that the safety concerns are overblown and that big drug companies are simply trying to protect their profits.

The FDA recommends that consumers purchase from web sites that carry the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sales (VIPPS) seal, which indicates that orders are processed by a licensed pharmacy in compliance with federal regulations.

Source: Michael A. Veronin and Bi-Botti C. Youan, "Magic Bullet Gone Astray: Medications and the Internet," Science, July 23, 2004.

For Science text (subscription required)


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