Physicians say many people turn to internet prescription drug purchases because they either cannot afford to buy expensive prescriptions through pharmacies, or they have diagnosed themselves with a disease and begun treating it with drugs purchased over the internet without medical consultation.
In the Lancet article, UK researchers reported the case of a 64-year-old woman who diagnosed herself with chronic fatigue syndrome four years ago and began taking prednisolone purchased from an online company in Thailand. The woman recently developed steroid-induced glaucoma and cataracts from taking the drug, and is awaiting an eye operation.
The FDA says it is only aware of a handful of incidents involving patients being injured by unregulated online pharmaceuticals, but acknowledges that the number of internet pharmacies is growing. The Pharmaceutical and Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) say the UK woman's case demonstrates the dangers of buying drugs from foreign sources, and that patients should only buy drugs through regulated channels.
Critics of the pharmaceutical industry say that PhRMA and conventional doctors are upholding a double standard by condemning the dangers of internet-purchased drugs, when the same drugs with the same dangers are available at pharmacies at much greater cost. Natural health proponents say pharmaceuticals have always been dangerous, no matter the source, since more than 100,000 people are killed by prescription drugs every year in the U.S., and 16,500 are killed by gastrointestinal bleeding every year from taking over-the-counter painkillers.
"The truth is that buying prescription drugs from anywhere, including a local pharmacy, is potentially dangerous," says Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate. "Drugs purchased at pharmacies currently kill thousands of times as many consumers each year as drugs purchased online, and they injure over 2 million Americans annually. But you don't see the FDA or the mainstream media warning consumers about the dangers of buying from pharmacies, do you?"