There was a time where getting a prescription required a patient to make an appointment with their doctor, have a consultation, and then take their doctor-approved prescription to a local pharmacy to be filled. Now technology has made getting medicine more convenient, but that benefit has also brought some serious downsides.
Today, it is estimated that at least 10% of patients acquire their drugs from online pharmacies. But that online access comes with illegal sales, unnecessary dispensing of pills, dangerous drug interactions, overdose and death. The Internet has made it possible for patients to try and become their own doctors, practicing medicine without all the knowledge to keep them safe. It has also made it easy for young adults to purchase drugs for non-medicinal purposes.
All of these purchases are leading to a rise in prescription drug abuse. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, since 2007, prescription drug abuse has increased by 430%.
Some online pharmacies don’t ask for proof of any doctor’s prescription. Others ask for faxed copies of the prescription, but don’t check to see if they are legitimate. While others claim to have a physician conduct an online survey to diagnose a patient and then dispense pills to someone who may have typed in whatever symptoms they knew would get them their drugs.
FDA actions to slow the sale of these illegal, non-approved drugs on the internet have been mostly ineffective. The rise of illegal pharmacies online is staggering. Congress passed the Ryan Height Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act in 2008. This act orders physicians to physically see a patient before prescribing them drugs. While it helps some patients, it does nothing to curb online sales of prescriptions.
Millions of pills are flowing from internet orders to homes without ever getting approved by the FDA. Some online pharmacies are FDA approved, but others simply send their unregulated or illegal pills right on through to customers.
Before using prescription drugs, patients should have a visit with their doctor. Different patients may react to the same medicine in very different ways. Problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes or other disorders or addictions could complicate and interfere with medications.
After a medical examination, a doctor can look at a patient’s specific needs and prescribe the best medicine for that individual. Without a doctor’s guidance, patients may unintentionally fall into drug addiction or even die of a drug overdose.
While the FDA can’t manage all of the online pharmacies all over the world, doctors can help manage the safety of prescriptions within their offices. Dr. Anupam B. Jena, author of a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, states that some doctors are unaware that their patients are obtaining painkillers and other drugs through online pharmacies.
Jena stresses that doctors need to ask their patients about their use of online pharmacies and need to caution their patients on using these drugs.