Are Online Pharmacies the Next Big Thing?

Online shopping is here to stay: last year 96 percent of Americans bought something from the web, and in 2021 it is expected that over 2.14 billion people worldwide will buy their goods and services online. The industry started off with the sale of clothes and simple products on eCommerce websites but has since expanded to groceries, flowers, and more. Now it is time for the next online shopping trend to hit the Internet: the rise of the online pharmacy.

Large eCommerce players are already expanding their business into the medical industry. Russian Internet company Mail.Ru recently announced the launch of an online pharmacy where consumers can find and order thousands of prescription drugs. In the United States, both Amazon and Walmart are looking to buy online pharmacy start-up PillPack to get into the medical business. Then there are significant investments in new players, such as a start-up 1MG that has already raised $75 million.

Image by Matt Briney on Unsplash

This growing interest in buying and selling of medicine online could revolutionize the industry. Home delivery of pharmaceuticals can create more convenience, especially since pharmacies in small towns are disappearing and those living in rural areas need to travel increasingly time to get their medicine. But this innovation in the pharmaceutical industry also has its downsides. A dangerous side-effect of the move to online drug sales is the import and sale of counterfeit goods.

Online pharmacies have already been fined large amounts of money for the import and sale of fake medicine. One of Canada’s largest online pharmacies was fined $35 million for importing counterfeit cancer drugs and other unapproved pharmaceuticals into the United States.

This import of counterfeit drugs is an increasing problem. Unsuspecting pharmacists and those with bad intentions buy and distribute fake medication under the name of the real deal, but these pills are made for a lower price and with other ingredients than the original medicine. This combination of different, often unknown materials, can lead to a deadly combination of chemicals in the lesser medicine. In 2008, 80 people in the United States died from a blood thinner that turned out to be a fake drug manufactured in China. Only last month it was announced that pop idol Prince died because of taking counterfeit Vicodin that contained the very deadly, synthetic drug Fentanyl.

So while the legitimate online pharmacy may be on the rise, there are also plenty of fake sellers of counterfeit drugs found on the web. A quick search into frequently bought and prescribed drugs in the United States shows thousands of untrustworthy websites. These pretend to sell medicine or distribute a counterfeit product. There were over 1000 websites that offered Xanax, almost 500 counterfeit online pharmacies dealt in Ritalin, and more than 3300 sites sold fake Viagra to their customers. Then there are drugs like Valium, OxyContin and Vicodin that can all be bought from shady online stores on the web.

The sale of medicine via online pharmacies may make life easier for some of us, as it gives us yet another thing we can order and receive without leaving the house. But unless you get a prescription from your doctor and order your medicine from a legitimate pharmacy, you don’t know what you are getting. The many untrustworthy websites that pretend to sell medicine or deliver counterfeit products show that it is important to only buy from a verified pharmacy eCommerce store.

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