Avoid Scams & Counterfeit Products: Quick Tips to Safely Purchase Medicines Online

Contributing Author: The Partnership for Safe Medicines

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Photo credit: Egor Milogrodskiy/Unsplash

Since COVID-19 reached the United States, brick-and-mortar and online stores have been experiencing shortages of items, such as hand sanitizer, paper products, medicines and medical supplies.

In addition, Americans who cannot find important over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines locally may seek them from new online sources, especially if they are facing hardships because of the pandemic. Scam artists have also stepped in to prey on fearful people by selling fake COVID-19 protective equipment, treatments and “cures.” The Food and Drug Administration has warned that fake treatments like these may harm COVID-19 patients directly or cause critical delays in their diagnosis and treatment.

In this environment, it is even more important that Americans know how to safely purchase medicines online and safe money while avoiding scams, counterfeits and substandard products.

Report scams to the FDA’s Health Fraud Program or email FDA-COVID-19-Fraudulent-Products@fda.hhs.gov.

1. Avoid retailers or online sellers offering a “cure,” a “vaccine,” or test for COVID-19.

· The FDA Commissioner has warned U.S. residents to speak to their doctors before trying any “cure” for COVID-19. As of April 2020, there are no vaccines or drugs approved to treat or prevent COVID-19. Patients may seriously risk their health by taking untested products.

· Test kits are not sold online and are only administered by licensed medical professionals and institutions, governmental entities or other reputable organizations.

2. Buy Over-The-Counter (OTC) medicines and medical supplies in-stores or via reputable online pharmacies.

· Retailers may be experiencing a shortage of OTC medicines and/or medical supplies such as face masks and hand sanitizers. Please don’t hoard them, as that could create shortages. A 30-day supply of OTC medication is sufficient. Please do not hoard masks or gloves as that limits the availability of these important resources for healthcare professionals and first responders.

· Beware of online marketplace sellers that claim to have items that are in short supply. Counterfeit and substandard products are commonly sold by third-party sellers on large retailer platforms such as AlibabaExpress, eBay and Amazon.

· Only purchase OTC medicines and medical supplies in U.S. licensed pharmacies (brick-and-mortar or .pharmacy online).

3. Buying prescription medicines online? Choose .pharmacy websites.

· Do not use foreign pharmacies. Foreign mail order pharmacies are not licensed in the U.S. and not safe for U.S. patients. Fake online pharmacies have made a resurgence during this crisis, including the resurgence of fake online Canadian pharmacies.

· Patients who buy their medicines online should only purchase from online pharmacies whose websites end in .pharmacy. (Go to https://www.safe.pharmacy to see the list.) Be sure to inform your local pharmacist of all the medications you take to watch for drug interactions. Talk to your pharmacist about your needs to have enough medicines to shelter in place.

4. Is cost a concern? Seek lower prices the safe way.

· If you are experiencing an economic hardship due to the coronavirus, consult patient assistance programs. Use NeedyMeds, Rx Outreach and Medicine Assistance Tool to find patient assistance programs to help you afford your medicines.

· Ask a pharmacist where it is cheaper to use insurance/Medicare or pay cash and whether there are other ways to reduce the price of your prescriptions.

· Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist whether a less expensive generic might be as good an option for your treatment.

· Use a prescription discount program. NeedyMeds has a free prescription discount card (and a phone app) that more than 65,000 U.S. pharmacies accept.

· If you or anyone in your household suspects that you may have been infected with COVID-19, contact your pharmacy by phone first before going there. Ask about home delivery or drive-thru service.

The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) is a public health group comprised of more than 45 non-profit members. PSM is committed to the safety of prescription drugs and protecting Americans against counterfeit, substandard or otherwise unsafe medicines.

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The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.

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