The United States is the only developed country without some form of nationalized health care. While millions go without health insurance, the cost of prescription medications is steadily increasing. Many who need medications and cannot afford them are looking to the Internet for alternatives.
Unfortunately, many online pharmacies are unscrupulous.
According to the FDA, complaints from people who were charged for medications and didn't receive them totaled nearly $12,000. It is likely that the true total far exceeds what the FDA has heard.
Some people are getting fake medications or a different type of medication than they think they are taking. Depending on what country the drug is coming from, which is rarely disclosed, it's impossible to know what it really is unless it is tested.
These shady online pharmacies take advantage of people addicted to painkillers, sedatives, or amphetamines. Desperate people with credit cards will pay a premium price and these operators know that.
Trying to regulate cyberspace is a job too big for any law enforcement agency. Local police simply deal with local users and distributors. How can you put a website out of business when the site is in cyberspace, the supposed "doctor" is in South Africa, the distributor is in the Netherlands, and the "company" is in the Bahamas?
There are many legitimate pharmacies in which those on fixed incomes or without insurance can get medications at a discount. Some of those pharmacies may be in foreign countries such as Canada.
Legitimate pharmacies usually disclose information about the company, require a prescription from a local physician who has visual contact with the patient, and do not sell scheduled drugs like narcotics and speed.
Medlineplus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, has a guide to healthy web surfing on its website with helpful tips for anyone shopping online pharmacies.
Americans are, unfortunately, a prime population for high-tech drug peddlers and rip-off artists -- mainly because more people have access to the Internet than to health care.
While law enforcement agencies around the country race to catch up with this newest battle in the war on drugs, Americans should be diligent in their quest for low-cost prescriptions.
Trust your local pharmacist, or you may be paying the consequences.