Dangers of buying drugs online

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Can cheaper prices online really mean you're getting a good deal? 

A study done by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy found that 95 percent of websites selling prescription drugs online are doing so illegally.  

From 2006 to 2017, prices for most chronic-use name brand prescription drugs have soared 214%, leading many people to go online to buy their medications cheaper.

"An easy availability for anyone to go online and purchase these drugs even in bulk quantities and have them shipped directly to their home, said Gary Warner, director of research and computer forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The problem?  

"What people think they're taking is not what they are taking. Just in Arizona, they seized over 350,000 fentanyl pills that were labeled as oxycontin," Warner said.

But now researchers at UAB are partnering with Facebook to crack down on these illicit drug sales, especially when it comes to opioid use. The team has developed an algorithm that can recognize the newest slang for street drugs, such as fentanyl, and automatically flag the content for removal so users can't get them. They've also been cracking down on fake online pharmacies. 

So how can you tell what's fake from real?

"The thing you want to look for when buying your drugs online are do they really require a prescription?" said Elizabeth Gardner, director of graduate studies in forensic science at UAB.

If the medication doesn't require a prescription, that could be a sign that the pharmacy you are working with is not legitimate. 

Some other tips: The drugs should be approved by the U.s. Food and Drug Administration. Even a generic drug needs to FDA approval. Check where the webpage is located and for how long it's been around. Some anti-phishing software, such as Netcraft, allows users to see exactly where the website is based. And always make sure instructions on how to take the drug are included in the packaging. 

Remember, consumers can not only put their health at risk buying prescription drugs online, but they can also be charged with a felony. Buying drugs without a prescription or using a prescription from an illegitimate cyber doctor, where there is not an in-person doctor-patient interaction, is not considered legitimate under the law.