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Most people know they are taking a risk with mail-order imported drugs, but there have also been cases of counterfeit prescription drugs from your local pharmacy.
See: Inside the world of counterfeit drugs, 2006, Dateline NBC

Drugs from non-traditional sources range from:

  • Drugs manufactured in Canada with the same ingredients. The FDA says they can't approve them because they don't inspect the manufacturing facilities in Canada.
  • Counterfeit Drugs with very low potency or lacking the active ingredient altogether.
  • Counterfeit Drugs with no active ingredient (e.g. Viagra pills made with gypsum or dry-wall material.
  • Counterfeit Drugs with dangerous ingredients (e.g. lead based paint, boric acid, ...)

"Internet Pharmacy Practice" at medscape.com describes how Internet Pharmacies are regulated and usually legitimate.
However, some have been accused of not having appropriate licenses or registration, dispensing drugs without a valid prescription, and prescribing without appropriate patient interaction on the part of the physician.

The The FDA, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's (NABP) Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program (click on Accreditation Programs then VIPPS) is a voluntary program that certifies online pharmacies that meet a series of requirements.

Most mail-order drugs illegal
By Associated Press
Published September 30, 2003

WASHINGTON - Nearly 90 percent of the imported mail-order drugs stopped at the borders in a special crackdown by government agents were potentially dangerous, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

Of 1,153 imported drugs collected by FDA and Customs agents, 1,019 were found to be illegal. They included drugs that have been withdrawn from the U.S. market, animal drugs never approved for human use, counterfeit drugs, drugs with dangerous interactions, drugs with dangerous side effects and narcotics, officials said.

The drugs were collected at international mail arrival centers in New York, Miami, San Francisco and Carson, Calif.

Inside the world of counterfeit drugs
Dateline NBC
June 2006

Links:
Tips to Avoid Counterfeit Drugs at NJ Dept. of Health
How to Choose a Pharmacy to Get the Cheapest Prescription Drugs at HowStuffWorks
The Partnership for safe Medicine.
FDA Links:
- Buying Medicines and Medical Products Online
- Importing Prescription Drugs.
- List of dietary supplements Ingredients for which the FDA has issued warnings
- List of enforcement actions taken against the promoter of drug, food or cosmetic products
- To report e-mails or Web sites promoting medical products that might be illegal, forward the material to webcomplaints@ora.fda.gov.
Dietary Supplements
List of dietary supplements ingredients for which the FDA has issued warnings . html . html

last updated 20 Aug 2007