Online Pharmacies Offer Savings, but Also Present Risks

Online pharmacies have become increasingly common as an alternative to brick and mortar drugstores, offering possible cost savings and saving consumers one or more errands. Many major drugstore chains now offer online ordering in addition to their in-store services. A number of companies have set up exclusively web-based services as well. Some misconceptions exist regarding businesses that sell prescription medications online. Reputable and legitimate online pharmacies invariably require valid prescriptions, and they operate under the same rules as any pharmacy with a physical location.

A minimum amount of diligence can assist a consumer in finding a good online pharmacy. They will either need to receive a paper prescription slip from the consumer by mail, or they may call the doctor to confirm the prescription. Generally speaking, reputable online pharmacies do not solicit business through e-mail marketing. Most people by now have received more than one piece of “spam” e-mail offering discounted medications over the internet. These are not part of the legitimate online pharmacy business, but some scam services mimic legitimate services very effectively.

State pharmacy boards sometimes have information pertaining to illegitimate online operations. When in doubt, the Maryland Board of Pharmacy or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy may have helpful information. The federal Department of Justice also investigates and prosecutes illegitimate and illegal websites. In September 2011, it reached an agreement with Google in which Google agreed to forfeit $500 million for taking advertisements from and offering support to online pharmacies based in Canada. These Canadian pharmacies target U.S. consumers, although importation of prescription medications violates federal drug laws.

Congress is also weighing in on the safety of online pharmacies. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) introduced a bill in December called the Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act. The bill would enable the government to crack down on online services that dispense medications without a valid prescription. The bill, which the two senators have previously introduced, was originally inspired by a California teen who died of an overdose of Vicodin he purchased online.

Even legitimate online pharmacies can still present risks for consumers. CBS Sacramento reports the case of a woman who repeatedly received the wrong medication from an online service. Instead of Lipitor, the company kept sending her Zocor. Her only means of addressing the problem with the pharmacy was through an 800 telephone number. They finally determined that the woman’s doctor had phoned in the wrong prescription. The virtual nature of the pharmacy proved to be a disadvantage in this situation, since the woman had only a limited ability to address the issue with an actual person by telephone.

Online pharmacies have all the same legal duties as a pharmacy located near the consumer. In the event of a medication error that harms the consumer, the consumer may recover damages, but the difficulty arises in determining how to pursue and online service through the court system. This may depend on the location of both the consumer and the pharmacy (or its central office), and each location’s procedural rules may come into play. This is still a developing area of the law with no clear procedures set just yet.

The Maryland pharmacy error attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen are skilled at assessing liability and damages for injuries caused by medication errors and helping their clients obtain compensation. For a free consultation to review your case, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

FDA Weighs in on Marketing Pharmaceuticals via Social Media, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer, January 5, 2012
Hospitals and Pharmacies Hit by Nationwide Drug Shortages, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer, November 3, 2011
New Study Finds Electronic Medication Error Rates Consistent with Handwritten Prescriptions, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer, July 1, 2011

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