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Medical Decentralization

A general consensus among experts is that there needs to be a higher level of control over internet message boards and sites of sales.  Not only do people get bad advice, worrying news, and easier access to what should be controlled substances, but sometimes, and often, websites will actually act as disguises for illegal distribution of drugs from other countries. Our borders are no longer along Canada and Mexico.  We now must look to virtual borders as well. Other countries have nowhere near the testing America has for new drugs on the market, never mind “herbal” supplements.  Most Americans need to be informed. A solution to cheaper prescriptions is being reinforced, as is buying medication online from Canada. It needs to be stated over and over again that Canada has more relaxed laws and their drugs are not subjected to the same standard of testing as American ones. The bottom line seems to be, buyer beware.




There are five basic types of Internet pharmacy. There are those that:

1.are partners with traditional brick and mortar pharmacies(such as drugstore.com and Rite Aid);

2.are themselves brick and mortar pharmacies (such as cvs.com);

3.operate solely on the Internet (such as planetrx.com); and

4.operate Web sites, usually based outside the United States, where consumers can order prescription drugs without a prescription.


The most reliable internet pharmacies are, of course, the ones that are physical pharmacies, using the internet only as a means to increase sales, while still adhering to the same policies and regulations their brick and mortar branches are. This is followed by ones that are associated with a physical pharmacy. Purely internet pharmacies can be just as safe as the other two, but there are good and bad pharmacies out there, and it is easier for a website without a physical address to evade certain regulations. Of course, most will have a head quarters or mailing address, but for someone uneducated in the world of online buying, telling the legitimate from the illegitimate can be troublesome. The best way to find out which online pharmacies are best is to talk to a doctor or pharmacist about it. They can point you in the right direction, and tell you what to look out for.


The standard list of buyer beware tips comes from the FDA. Some of the tips included are:


Look for websites with practices that protect you

A safe website should:

be licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the website is operating (check HYPERLINK "http://www.nabp.info/"www.nabp.info for a list of state boards of pharmacy)

have a licensed pharmacist to answer your questions

require a prescription from your doctor or other health care professional who is licensed in the United States to write prescriptions for medicine

have a way for you to talk to a person if you have problems


Some medicines sold online:

  • are fake (counterfeit or "copycat" medicines)
  • have dangerous ingredients
  • have expired
  • aren't FDA approved
  • aren't made using safe standards
  • aren't safe to use with other medicine or products you use
  • aren't labeled, stored, or shipped correctly

So what does all this mean? It is not meant to shut down online equivalent to mom and pop pharmacies, but it does mean that there are many places posing as small independent pharmacies, that are actually over seas or operating out of an unlicenced "pharmacists" garage. Many websites feel that the laws that have been created are infringing on their rights. They feel like just because something has not been proved effective does not mean that it should not be allowed for sale. After all, natural medicines worked for ages and there was never a standard test that they had to pass to be approved and recommended. Currently the rule is that if something is not FDA approved you have a choice. You can sell it, or recommend it. You may not make claims about it's efficiency but you must make the statement that it has yet to be proven effective. This is to prevent people from falsely advertising medication for their own gain. The battleground mainly revolves around the area of natural medicines. Should natural supplements be held to the same standard as chemical-based mediation? There are several reasons why they should. One major problem that online pharmacies face is that the people who go to them are not nearly as loyal as they were to their neighborhood ones, that were chosen for convenience. Drug interactions are easier to overlook. This becomes even more of an issue with natural supplements or aids because people are not as educated about them and often will forget that they are potent and can have interactions, and can be overused. They also do not have the same standard of labeling. Many are also imports. All of this combined makes for more room for error, and when it comes to health, any error can be extremely serious.

      It would be convenient for the FDA to regulate online sales of drugs, however this is all together impractical.  The world of online drug marketing is far to broad and complex to be regulated efficiently by the FDA.  It is full of third party distributors and loop holes which allow sellers of these drugs to  stay in business.  The best course of action the FDA can take is to inform the public about the dangers of buying drugs online, allowing consumers to make more informed buys concerning their medication.






Caroline Antonelli

Tara Sullivan

Nick Buchanan

Dan Welch

Peter Eberhardt

Posted 2005-12-05 09:05:53 by Max Langdon
Comments on this story... (toggle all)

Tara Sullivan [Tara Sullivan, 2005-12-05 11:12:13]

I was definately reluctant on researching this topic because it did not seem to fit new media at all. However, all in all I am glad we did. I learned a lot, and I think it is important that people are aware of the risks they are taking trying to buy drugs online. I think the most intersting part of this article is which is also the most important is that if you do become aware of a drug company that seems sketchy you can report it to the FDA. This benefits the public in the long run and also seems sort of like open sourcing. The public contributes and makes suggestions. I feel like peoples voices will be heard more, because it involves people health.

Kelley Swan [Kelley Swan, 2005-12-05 11:57:10]

I personally would never buy any kind of pharmacutical drugs from the internet because of the reasons that were listed in this artical. It is definitely dangerous to buy a perscribed drug without the perscription and you really dont have any idea where the drugs are actually coming from. What if something is labeled wrong and you are allergic to it or it interferes with another medication you are taking? I agree that there does have to be a higher control over sites that sell these medications, to save lives of some people and prevent others from getting sick.

Benjamin Barker [Benjamin Barker, 2005-12-06 21:44:04]

Wow, this is really scary. I'm not the type of person to buy much online, but I certainly would never buy anything prescription related online, especially after knowing what sources the medication might be coming from. As was indicated in the article, labelling can oftentimes be incorrect, and when it comes to health, there is little margin for error. This is certainly an example of a new media that is dangerously taken advantage of.

Nick Parker [Nicholas Parker, 2005-12-08 23:25:34]

This story is really facinating. I found that the information on how Canada has cheaper but not as safe drugs is really important. With my mom being a oncology nurse and her telling me how some of her patients have gone to canada to get their drugs because some perscriptions are too expensive really makes me think about how our own government is screwing its own people over by making the drugs too expensive. But then i realise that our government is just trying to save us from being sick because of drugs not being tested enough. So overall i think that the use of our government to test our products and make sure that everything is safe is better then getting cheap drugs that are potentulally harmful.

High prices = our government or multinational corporations? [Jon Ippolito, 2005-12-16 07:01:55]

I think we have to distinguish the costs due to our government's oversight of drug safety (which I believe is usually well spent) and the costs due to the marketing, intellectual property restrictions, and other overhead added by the drug companies themselves (which I think are very problematic).

Rich versus poor nations [Jon Ippolito, 2005-12-16 07:08:40]

I think this is an illuminating article, and one I believe relevant to new media because it probes the influence of networks and decentralization on an important social issue.

That said, I think the article is written (not surprisingly) from the standpoint of a relatively healthy person in the US. If you were an AIDs-striken girl from Ghana, you might not have the luxury of affording drugs from a brick-and-mortar pharmacy or waiting the 5+ years it takes for the FDA to approve a new experimental drug. See http://madmundo.tv/ for a terrific story about one such girl.

Unfortunately, such people may be more susceptible to unscrupulous drug companies than we Americans who have the luxury of Rite-Aids on every other city block. So I think we need a hybrid solution in which reputable drugs can be distributed and wider faster via the Internet. Perhaps a self-policing community along the lines of wikipedia or slashdot could do it. Capstone idea, anyone?

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