Is Buying Drugs Online Safe?

The e-commerce explosion is now making it possible to buy prescription drugs over the Internet without a doctor's prescription.

Health Contributor Dr. Emily Senay reports on the fast-growing and mostly unregulated online marketplace for The Early Show.

Hugh Snyder fixes appliances for a living. He's in good health but takes medicine to control his blood pressure and ease the pain of arthritis. His prescription medicine he now buys over the Internet.

"I found that the medication was very, very expensive over the counter in the drug store, like $300 for a hundred pills [that] cost me $12.21. I said this is the place for me," says Snyder.

A growing number of people are clicking on to online pharmacies; they are convenient and offer low-cost prescription drugs. The trouble is a number of Web sites don't require prescriptions to get prescription drugs.

"We found that there were about nine Web sites, all outside the United States in which you could get all the medications that they offered without a physician consultation," says Dr. Bernard Bloom.

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Dr. Bloom is the lead author of a study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. It revealed the dangers of being treated by an online doctor.

"You don't know what you're getting; you don't know if you're really talking to a physician on the other end. You really don't know anything about that physician's qualifications or training," Bloom says.

And the study suggests there's no guarantee when it comes to what's in the pills.

"People who buy knowingly or unknowingly from illegitimate pharmacies online put themselves at risk. They may receive contaminated drugs, counterfeit drugs, the wrong drug or no drug at all," says Food and Drug Administration medical officer Jeffrey Schuren.

The FDA admits those Web sites present the biggest challenge to law enforcement officials and a major danger to consumers.

Therefore, as of now, it is advising consumers to not purchase medications from foreign Web sites.

But for people like Snyder, legitimate online pharmacies aren't just offering better prices.

"They answer my questions; they talk to me. It doesn't come up to the level of what the pharmacist used to do 15, 20 years ago. But it beats what I'm finding right now," he says.

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