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There’s a good chance that after a visit with your doctor, or other health practitioner, you will next head down to your local retail chain drugstore or independent community pharmacy to pick up one or more of the 4 billion prescriptions filled in the US every year.1 Over half of all Americans take one prescription, and 25% take four or more to improve or save their lives.2 That adds up to a lot of trips to the pharmacy.
Getting a medicine from the pharmacy’s shelves to your medicine cabinet can take a bit of doing if you don’t have a pharmacy nearby, have trouble getting out, or have limited financial resources to pay for them.3 And for some, a face-to-face encounter at the drugstore is a cause for distress, particularly if the medicine treats an embarrassing or deeply private condition. Shopping online can solve this problem because it is done in the privacy of your home. It's also convenient because you can comparison shop on price and get what you need delivered right to your door with just a few clicks and a credit card. But it is becoming increasingly clear that buyers need to be wary — enterprising crime syndicates and nefarious individuals have discovered that they can make a lot of money when they prey on people who need medicines by substituting genuine prescriptions medicines with counterfeits —ones that look like the real thing but are far from it.
The Difference Between Fake and Genuine Medicines
When your health practitioner recommends you take a medicine to prevent or treat a condition or symptom, you want to take the exact drug that was made by the rightful pharmaceutical company that developed it, in the precise form that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the regulating agency for medicines in the US. Making a medicine is a long, arduous, careful and exacting process. And each step has a that must be followed exactly—from the source of raw materials all the way down the line to the final packaged product.
Counterfeit medicines, however, can put you in danger of not treating your condition at all or make you more sick because you won’t be getting a genuine product.4 You don’t know where the drugs come from, how they were made, or what’s in them. Does the medicine contain all the right ingredients, in the right amounts, prepared in a sanitary and sterile environment, without the addition of contaminants, poisons, or other impurities? Was the medicine stored properly? Did someone dilute it or tamper with it at some point? Legitimate pharmacies require prescription and are heavily regulated to ensure these dangerous practices don’t occur.
What if you have taken the medicine before, and now you are experiencing something new or out of the ordinary? Did the treatment not work because the medication was counterfeit? Substituting a counterfeit medicine for a real one can turn what would have been a promising treatment into no treatment at all, or worse, be the cause of death.
Poor quality medicines can affect adults, children, the elderly and the public at large, here and around the world. Counterfeits are found in every drug category—brand, generic, over-the-counter—including drugs that vaccinate against disease or ones that treat infections, cancer, pain, and psychiatric conditions.5
PURCHASE DRUGS AT A LEGITIMATE PHARMACY
No one would knowingly use a fake or counterfeit medicine, vaccine, medical device, or piece of equipment. And while there are many legitimate and trustworthy retail and online pharmacies selling properly evaluated medicines, there are thousands of fraudulent outlets. Rogue online pharmacies dupe thousands of unsuspecting patients every day into buying fakes (and sometimes stealing personal identity and credit card information while they’re at it). In fact, a recent study showed that nearly 98% of all Internet pharmacies are illegal and unprofessional.8 Legitimate pharmacies always require prescriptions. In fact, many patients are surprised to learn that it’s not legal for a Canadian pharmacist to dispense medication to an American without a prescription from a Canadian physician.
If you are located in the United States and want to buy medicines online, choose a National Association of Boards of Pharmacy® (NABP) Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS). The NABP certifies online pharmacies, ensuring they have all the necessary licenses, registrations, and permits to practice, have no past sanctions against them, require a valid prescription from a legitimate patient-prescriber, and comply with privacy and security laws as well as business best practices. U.S. websites will carry the VIPPS seal. Patients should access these certified pharmacies through the VIPPS website (list website)
To be on the safe side, the FDA recommends you select your pharmacy wisely, both online and off.
- Verify a retail, community pharmacy, drugstore, or individual pharmacist has been licensed by your state board of pharmacy to dispense or compound medicines
- Check if the pharmacy is VIPPS approved (try using the website name with the or check a website’s legitimacy on the LegitScript database
- Avoid any website that doesn’t require a valid prescription for prescription drugs
- Avoid pharmacies that offer international shipping for drugs not approved in the US
- Make sure the pharmacy has a real US address and a secure way to contact them on the webpage
- Check to see if there is a licensed pharmacist available through the website who can answer questions about how to take the medication
- Don’t buy from any source that contacts you through email spam, Twitter or Facebook
- Report unlawful sales of medical products to the FDA and VIPPS
- Tell your health practitioner where you purchased your medicines so he or she can consider the quality of your medicines as the cause of unusual symptoms or lack of treatment effects
Learn what Pfizer is doing to protect its customers from counterfeit medicines. If you suspect the Pfizer medicine you have purchased may be counterfeit, call 1-800-438-1985
To report a problem with any medication visit FDA Medwatch
To learn more about buying from online pharmacies visit FDA’s BeSafeRx
To learn more about fake medicines visit Fight the Fakes
- Kaiser Family Foundation “Total Number of Retail Prescription Drugs Filled at Pharmacies 2017”, Accessed June 12, 2018
- Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll Conducted March 8-13 2018, Accessed June 12, 2018
- Qato, Dima Mazen et al. “The Availability of Pharmacies in the United States: 2007–2015.” Ed. Jacobus P. van Wouwe. PLoS ONE 12.8 (2017): e0183172. PMC. Web. 11 June 2018.
- Institute of Medicine 2013. “Countering the problem of falsified and substandard drugs.” Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
- Mackey, Tim K. et al. “Counterfeit Drug Penetration into Global Legitimate Medicine Supply Chains: A Global Assessment.” The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 92.Suppl 6 (2015): 59–67. PMC. Accessed June 12 2018.
- The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. “Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program Progress Report for State and Federal Regulators: February 2018” Accessed June 12 2018