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Internet Pharmacies: Some Pose Safety Risks for Consumers

GAO-04-820 Published: Jun 17, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 2004.
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As the demand for and the cost of prescription drugs rise, many consumers have turned to the Internet to purchase drugs. However, the global nature of the Internet can hinder state and federal efforts to identify and regulate Internet pharmacies to help assure the safety and efficacy of products sold. Recent reports of unapproved and counterfeit drugs sold over the Internet have raised further concerns. GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent to which certain drugs can be purchased over the Internet without a prescription; (2) whether the drugs are handled properly, approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and authentic; and (3) the extent to which Internet pharmacies are reliable in their business practices. GAO attempted to purchase up to 10 samples of 13 different drugs, each from a different pharmacy Web site, including sites in the United States, Canada, and other foreign countries. GAO determined whether the samples contained a pharmacy label with patient instructions for use and warnings on the labels or the packaging and forwarded the samples to their manufacturers to determine whether they were approved by FDA and authentic. GAO also confirmed the locations of several Internet pharmacies and identified those under investigation by regulatory agencies.

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