OLYMPIA - Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire and State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes today warned consumers about Internet sites that are using the public’s fear of anthrax to sell antibiotics without a physician’s prescription.
"It is hard to believe but some online companies are attempting to use the anthrax attacks as an opportunity to make a fast buck," Gregoire said. "Consumers must be aware that their health and pocketbooks are at risk."
Gregoire said there has been an increase in online pharmacies, many of which are believed to be illegal, since the first reports of anthrax in Florida and New York. She said the sites suggest stockpiling antibiotics like Cipro to protect families and are written to falsely imply organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross endorse the sales.
According to Dr. Hayes, improper and premature use of antibiotics can diminish their effectiveness and, if taken without consulting a physician, may cause serious side effects. The Department of Health recommends against using Cipro or any antibiotic unless properly prescribed by a physician. Health officials also are worried that adulterated drugs may be sold by unlicensed online pharmacies.
"People shouldn’t let their fear drive them to a bad decision," Gregoire said.
Dr. Art Sprenkle, medical director of the Washington State Medical Education and Research Foundation, joined Gregoire and Hayes in warning against the purchase of generic Cipro from Internet websites.
Sprenkle is also program director of Washington AWARE (Alliance Working for Antibiotics Resistance Education), which is a broad coalition of doctors, health plans, academics, the Washington State Department of Health and specialty associations aimed at reducing the use of antibiotics within the state.
"We are concerned that there will be increased misuse of antibiotics like Cipro because of our nationwide concern over anthrax exposure," Sprenkle said. "Please, instead of purchasing antibiotics and self-medicating, call your doctor. These very powerful drugs can have very serious side effects. You will almost certainly be doing yourself more harm than good by taking them without a physician's guidance."
TIPS FOR ONLINE PURCHASE OF PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
- Under Washington law, residents may purchase prescriptions online from any state provided the person prescribing the drug is properly licensed in that state. However, getting a drug "online" without having a valid doctor-patient relationship would make possession of the prescription drug in Washington illegal.
- Pharmacies, including online pharmacies, must be registered with the Washington State Board of Pharmacy to conduct business in this state. People considering Internet purchase of prescription drugs should look for the VIPPS Seal. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) operates the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS) program. The presence of this seal on a pharmacy website is an indication that the pharmacy has undergone a stringent and through review and onsite inspection to make sure that it complies with state and federal Laws. Each of these pharmacies is also licensed in the states into which it ships prescription drugs to consumers. The VIPPS Web site has a link to NABP Web site, which provides information about the pharmacy. Many Web sites offering Cipro were only established after the anthrax reports, so they have no performance history or track record. This makes it difficult for authorities to verify authenticity. Some may be scams, in which consumers provide personal information including credit data, receives no drugs, and is victimized by identity theft.
- Consumers should patronize only those Web sites that require a valid prescription, and accept prescription orders only from authorized medical professionals or pharmacies. Be wary of sites offering their own physicians for consultation; a patient has no way of knowing the physician’s record or practice.
- Some online pharmacies are advertising a specific, expensive antibiotic such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro) as the medication to treat anthrax. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved other, less expensive, antibiotics that have been around for years, including penicillin, to treat anthrax.
- Obtaining Cipro or any other medication through a Web site without benefit of a physician consultation, and then self-medicating without knowing whether a medical condition requiring treatment exists may be more harmful than the actual illness of concern. Pre-existing conditions and other factors affect whether one should take antibiotics of any kind, and in what dosage. An actual medical exam or consultation is needed to make those determinations; a Web site service may not be able to do so. All prescription drugs exhibit some side effects, have the potential for causing adverse reactions, or may interact with other medications. That’s why it is important to consult with a prescriber who knows you and your medical history. In addition, taking Cipro to prevent anthrax infection will not be effective unless you have actually been exposed to the bacteria that cause the disease. In addition, taking this or any antibiotic when it is not needed will increase the potential for drug resistant versions of anthrax and other infections to develop.
- The prices charged for some of the antibiotics by some online pharmacies are extremely high. Be wary of "hidden" charges, such as a "consultation fee" for each purchase, and high shipping costs.
- Purchasing prescription drugs from foreign markets may increase the risk that those drugs are impure or adulterated. An online purchaser may also receive phony products or drugs at lower dosages than represented if the Web site is not otherwise an established business or has not received approval from regulatory authorities or health and medical groups that monitor prescription drug sales practices.
- Be wary of online pharmacies that require you to agree to a waiver of liability waiving your legal rights. Consumers should never agree to a waiver of liability in order to receive prescription drugs.