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Online pharmacies: Is it safe to buy from sites outside US?

January 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A Consumer Reports National Research Center survey found that in the past year, nearly 3 million people have ordered a prescription drug from an online pharmacy outside the U.S.

So, what's wrong with that?

"Any website located outside the U.S. does not fall under the Food and Drug Administration's oversight. The reality is you cannot be certain of what you're getting when you buy from these sites," said Dr. John Santa, a Consumer Reports medical adviser.

It's not just websites outside the U.S. In a review of more than 8,300 online pharmacies, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, or NABP, found a majority don't require a valid prescription. Additionally, nearly half sell drugs that are not approved by the FDA.

In all, the NABP found only a fraction of the online pharmacies reviewed - just over 3 percent - appear to be legitimate.

Consumer Reports says there are ways to shop safely online. Stick with pharmacies you know, like Wal-Mart, CVS or Target.

Also, always look for a VIPPS logo. It means the pharmacy is located in the U.S., dispenses only FDA-approved medication and requires a prescription from your doctor.

As for saving money, almost every big-box and chain pharmacy offers a discount generic drug program. In some cases, you can find a month's supply of certain popular medications for as little as $4.