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Action Line: How legit is your online pharmacy?

Action Line columnist Blair Looney advises how to check out online pharmacists.
Action Line columnist Blair Looney advises how to check out online pharmacists. Fresno Bee file

A reader: I recently saw an advertisement for prescription medications at discounted prices from totalcaremart.com. Is the company legitimate? Do you have any record of U.S. citizens being swindled by this company? Are U.S. citizens allowed to purchase prescription drugs from a foreign country?

Action Line: The very first things you need to ask: Where are they located? Are they licensed to dispense pharmaceuticals in the United States? Are the drugs they are dispensing approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

On Dec. 15, 2015, BBB in Manitoba, Canada, confirmed that totalcaremart.com has not obtained a necessary license from the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba (MPHA) to advertise or offer for sale online pharmaceutical products. Such a license is required in the province of Manitoba for businesses offering pharmaceutical services.

Companies engaging in international pharmaceutical services are required to be further licensed as an International Pharmacy Service (IPS). BBB has confirmed that totalcaremart.com has not obtained this license from MPHA. BBB encourages you to contact the following agency to confirm this information: College of Pharmacists of Manitoba at 204-233-1411 or mpha.in1touch.org. See more at: fblinks.com/drugs.

Here are some FAQs from the FDA:

Is it okay to buy prescription medicine online from other countries?

FDA does not have jurisdiction of prescription medication from other countries; therefore, FDA cannot guarantee the safety or effectiveness of those medications. Medicines approved in other countries may have slight variations, or different ingredients, that could cause you to develop a resistance to your medicine or result in a misdiagnosis by your doctor. If you take more than one medicine, these differences could also cancel out the effects of your medicines or cause harmful interactions. Additionally, many of these illegal pharmacies use fake “storefronts” to make consumers think they come from countries with high safety standards, but the medicines could have been made anywhere.

Aren’t most online pharmacies safe and legal?

No. Only 3 percent of online pharmacies reviewed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy are in compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws and practice standards.

Isn’t it obvious which online pharmacies are fake and which are legitimate?

No, it may not be obvious that an online pharmacy is fake. Many illegal online pharmacies use fake “storefronts” to make you think they are real pharmacies. Fraudulent sellers run fake online pharmacy scams to exploit American consumers by pretending to be legitimate pharmacies offering prescription medicines for sale. However, the products they provide may be fake, expired and otherwise unsafe. In fact, many online pharmacy scams are so sophisticated that even health care professionals can have a hard time detecting illegal sites at first glance.

BBB advised that if you are thinking of buying online, you need to know the risks. FDA is another great source of information for approved prescription drugs, at www.fda.gov. Remember to verify the license of your pharmacy at fblinks.com/verify for the state of California, as well.

Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or info@cencal.bbb.org.

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