Rising drug costs attract seniors to illegal online pharmacies

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The majority of older Americans own a computer, smartphone or tablet. Low prices attract some of them to shop online for medication, which can be dangerous owing to the fact that offered drugs are often fake or counterfeit. (Photograph: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON, USA: Latest research has shown that lower prices and convenience of shopping online are the two biggest factors driving consumers to the Internet, making especially older Americans easy targets for illegal online drug sellers offering. With an estimated 49.5 percent growth of the U.S. senior population by 2030 and out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries skyrocketing, the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global), Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and National Consumers League (NCL) are joining forces to educate seniors and their caregivers about the health and financial risks associated with buying prescription medicines from illegal or rogue online pharmacies.

“Escalating costs for hundreds of drugs prescribed to treat chronic conditions not necessarily covered fully by Medicare make it more likely that seniors, who often are living on fixed incomes, will turn to the Internet to look for less expensive options,” explained ASOP Global Executive Director Libby Baney. “For twelve specialty drugs used to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Hepatitis C, Medicare Part D enrolees face at least US$ 4,000 and as much as nearly US$ 12,000 in annual out-of-pocket costs in 2016 for one drug alone,” she added.

A recent review of more than 11,000 websites selling prescription medications online to U.S. consumers found that approximately 96 percent do not comply with U.S. laws and 50 percent of medicines sold online are fake or counterfeit. They contain little or no active ingredients and/or dangerous and often deadly poisons, including floor wax, mercury, concrete, chalk, boric acid, road tar, paint or anti-freeze. Interpol estimates that counterfeit medicines are responsible for up to one million deaths annually worldwide.

 

“Our research shows that lower prices and convenience of shopping online are the two biggest factors driving consumers to the Internet, making older Americans easy targets for illegal online drug sellers offering ‘too good to be true’ discounts for fake or unapproved versions of the lifesaving medicines they depend on”

said Marjorie Clifton, executive director of the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies. “The criminal networks who develop fake websites have become very savvy in creating sites that are difficult to detect by even the most sophisticated consumers and law enforcement; which is why it is imperative that consumers are informed and our companies are working together to do everything they can to shut down illegitimate sites.”

The majority of older Americans own a computer, smartphone or tablet and almost 60 percent of older Americans use the Internet on a regular basis. Financial scams aimed at seniors, including counterfeit medicines sold online, are so prevalent that they are now considered “the crime of the 21st century” by the National Council on Aging.

“In addition to the health risks associated with buying prescription medicines online, the threat is further exacerbated by the fact that unknowing seniors provide these criminals with personal and credit card information, putting them at risk for fraud and identity theft,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League.

To stay safe seniors and their caregivers should avoid websites that do not require a valid prescription, sell prescription medications simply by completing an online questionnaire, offer drastically discounted prices, do not have a licensed pharmacist available for consultation, do not display a physical street address, offer to ship prescriptions from other countries to the U.S. and are not verified by the National Association of State Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).