Online Pharmacies: Friend or Foe?
10 years ago, if you were in the market for school supplies or small electronics, you probably drove to the nearest Staples, Office Max or Radio Shack. If you were looking for pet supplies, from pet toys and beds to foods and flea control, you went to your veterinarian or more recently to a super store, like Walmart or Petco. Today, with information being readily available it has allowed pet owners to research pet needs, pet treatments, product prices, brand names and even the color of the box. Increasingly, pet owners are requesting prescriptions for their pets just as we do for our family. These prescriptions can be filled by the veterinarian or often at a human pharmacy, like Walmart or Rite Aid.
Note: Never use human drugs for your pet, unless your veterinarian has specifically prescribed them.
Alternatively, there are online and compounding pharmacies available. While online pharmacies are sometimes supervised by boards of pharmacy, they often self-regulate. That can occur when these online sources of pet and human drugs are mishandled, adulterated or even counterfeit.
Online search for pet medication & online pet pharmacies on the rise
Many pet parents are seeking lower prices for medications needed by their pets through the use of online pet pharmacies. The advantage to the consumer has been reduced pricing and the convenience of home delivery, rather than having to visit a veterinarian’s office to fill or refill prescriptions. The disadvantages, which are often unapparent or simply overlooked, include the risk of these online medications being counterfeit, expired or nearing their expiration date and potentially being improperly stored (e.g., too hot or too cold), damaging the drug and reducing the effectiveness and even the safety.
Why are there so many counterfeit drugs? Why bother to counterfeit drugs? Money. For counterfeiters, the profits are staggering.
Counterfeiting can apply to both brand name and generic products. Counterfeit drugs may be contaminated, worthless (not help the condition or disease the medicine is intended to treat) or actually poisonous (cause dangerous side effects). They may even contain the wrong active ingredient or no active ingredient at all. These drugs are often packaged in phony packaging that looks legitimate. We all accept that the inexpensive Prada purses sold on the street corner are not really Prada so why do we so often overlook the possibility that cheaper drugs sold on the ‘corners’ of the internet might also be less than they appear? The drugs are not always fake, but most reputable manufacturers will not (and currently cannot legally) sell their products to online pharmacies. For Veterinarians, on the other hand, it is not illegal to sell these drugs. The Animal Medical Center of Southern California says on their website, “It is not illegal for veterinarians to sell their supplies to these companies; however, it is violating their contracts with the veterinary pharmaceutical distribution companies to sell their drugs to these online pharmacies. The veterinary pharmacies do their best to police the situation, but it is obviously difficult to determine which veterinarians are violating their contracts by diverting drugs and supplies.”
How should you protect yourself?
These products are commonly advertised in the online pet drug marketplace. The safest way to make sure you’re getting the medicine and medical products you need is to buy them only from a reputable source. For example your veterinarian will most likely have an online store, buying from their online store will guarantee your products. You want to be sure that the chain of handling has been safe, correct and secure at each step of the manufacture and distribution process. Human dispensing pharmacies are reputable sources of human products and can also safely fill your veterinarian’s prescription. Online pharmacies may or may not be reputable. If you choose to buy online, be sure the websites are licensed by the Board of Pharmacy in your state. Also keep in mind though that the manufacturer of the product(s) does not guarantee them if they are not sold from a Veterinary practice.
The safest place to obtain pharmaceuticals is from your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is the only healthcare provider who is trained in the proper application and administration of animal products and is knowledgeable in side effects and interactions of drugs in animals. It’s important to keep in mind that your veterinarian is a small business, buying your pets medications from your veterinarian helps keep their business healthy & thriving, which in turn helps them keep your pets healthy & thriving on life!
It is also important to keep in mind that when a medication is prescribed for your pet, it means that your veterinarian has made a decision that the medication is indicated to treat your pet's health problem. Many prescription drugs are only effective for specific problems, and may be harmful for your pet if used without a veterinary examination and diagnosis. Having these drugs available as prescription-only medications ensures that they are used appropriately. Flea/Tick & Heartworm medications are also only available through a prescription so a relationship with your veterinarian is required to buy these products.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.