Are Medicines from Online Pharmacies Safe?

 |  Jun 22nd 2008  |   46 Contributions


My vet recently decided not to give out
prescriptions for online pet med services. He
claims they use "old" medications which can be
harmful. I wonder if he is more interested in
making a profit for himself off the meds than
giving a break to his patients. How can an online
supplier consciously sell old meds?

S H
Chicago, IL

My vet says that ordering from a well-known internet pharmacy is a
bad idea because you don't know what you're
getting. Is it really a bad source to order from,
or is the vet not wanting to lose money? Thanks so
much!!

Alison
Muscatine, IA

Veterinarians and online pharmacies have had a rocky relationship from the start.

When online pharmacies first started selling medicines, many vets were worried that their already slim profit margins (even though vet care is expensive, most of what you pay your vet ends up going to his suppliers, his landlord, his employees, utility companies, the IRS, and regulatory agencies) would be reduced by the loss of income-generating drug sales.

This concern has not panned out as expected. Well-managed veterinary hospitals do not derive much income from drug sales. In the hospitals where I have worked, medications were offered to clients more for their convenience than for our profit. And this makes sense. A veterinarian's job is to manage the health of pets, not to sell drugs.

So why is there a lingering animosity between vets and online pharmacies?

To my knowledge, none of my patients has ever received an expired or ineffective medicine from an online pharmacy. But I have had conversations with representatives from drug manufacturing companies who assure me that this does happen. They also claim that some online pharmacies unwittingly distribute counterfeit medications that have no efficacy.

In my opinion, if you order from a reputable online pharmacy the odds of receiving expired or counterfeit medicines are low. Most of the drugs that I have seen dispensed from these pharmacies are perfectly fine.

However, I still have a bone or two to pick with many of the internet pharmacies. Working with them can be very frustrating.

For instance, one internet pharmacy habitually refuses to write instructions on the drugs it dispenses. If I send a prescription to the pharmacy and indicate that the medicine should be taken twice daily, they will dispense the medicine with instructions to "take as instructed by veterinarian". In the best case, this wastes my time--clients call me to ask how often the medicine should be given, when I have already provided that information to the pharmacy. In the worst case, it puts my patients at risk of overdose (for instance, if the client for some reason believes the medicine should be given four times daily).

Another pharmacy routinely sends faxes to my office requesting authorization for prescriptions. I promptly fax back authorizations. The next day, I often receive faxes from the pharmacy, written in a somewhat threatening tone, stating that they have not received my authorization. This confusion on the part of the pharmacy is very annoying, and it also causes me to lose confidence in their business in general. If they can't manage their fax system, how can I expect them to dispense drugs accurately?

To give the internet pharmacies credit, I have been experiencing these sorts of problems less often over the last year. Nonetheless, I still find working with some online pharmacies to be quite inconvenient.

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