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Buyer Beware: The Dark Side of Buying Prescription Medication Online

Counterfeit medications pose a serious and growing problem. These products often contain dangerous ingredients and illicit substances that can have fatal consequences. Shockingly, a surge in poisonings and deaths has been reported in recent years, all linked to counterfeit drugs bought online or through social media apps.

The Latest Statistics

In the fight against counterfeit drugs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been actively involved. Between 2016 and 2021, the FDA took 130 enforcement actions against counterfeit medication rings, including arrests, product confiscation, and the dissolution of these illegal operations. Over two-thirds of counterfeit medications seized by the FDA were sold online, and in nearly 85% of these cases, the medications were obtained without a prescription.

A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that social media platforms are increasingly being used to sell counterfeit medications to young people. The study urged parents to be aware of this trend and to talk to their children about the dangers of buying medications online.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 108,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2022, with more than 75% involving fentanyl. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported in 2023 that a staggering 7 out of 10 pills seized by law enforcement contained fentanyl.

Who’s At Risk?

While people of all ages are susceptible to the dangers of counterfeit medications, the risks are particularly high for certain groups:

  • Young People: Teens and young adults are particularly vulnerable to counterfeit medications due to their increased experimentation with drugs and their greater reliance on online sources for information and purchasing.

  • Individuals with Substance Use Disorders: People with substance use disorders are at heightened risk of encountering counterfeit medications as they may seek medications from illicit sources or through online pharmacies that operate outside of regulatory oversight.

  • Those Seeking Affordable Medications: Individuals seeking to purchase medications at lower costs may be drawn to the seemingly attractive prices offered by illegitimate online pharmacies or social media sellers. However, these lower prices often come at the expense of safety and quality. This issue has become prominent in the wake of current prescription medication shortages. As necessary medications, such as Adderall, become harder for people to find at their own pharmacies, many may turn to online sources for their prescription medication.

  • Individuals Living in Areas with Limited Access to Licensed Pharmacies: People living in remote areas or underserved communities may have limited access to licensed, FDA approved pharmacies, making them more susceptible to purchasing medications from unregulated sources.

  • Social Media Users: The pervasiveness of social media has created a new avenue for the sale of counterfeit medications, making it easier for individuals to access these dangerous products without the knowledge or guidance of healthcare professionals. Ever increasing social media use by teens and young adults makes them especially susceptible to purchasing fake prescription medication online. In fact, fentanyl tainted pills bought from social media are causing a lethal rise in overdose deaths among teens. It is estimated that about 90% of pills purchased through social media contain fentanyl.

It's important to note that the risk of encountering counterfeit medications is not limited to these specific groups. Anyone who purchases medications from online sources outside of licensed pharmacies is at risk.

Protecting Your Family: What You Can Do

As parents, your primary concern is undoubtedly the well-being of your family. Here are some practical steps you can take to safeguard yourself and your loved ones from the perils of counterfeit medications:

  • Stick to Licensed Pharmacies: The most effective way to protect yourself and your family is to purchase medications exclusively from licensed and FDA-approved pharmacies. If you're uncertain about a pharmacy's legitimacy, you can use a safe search tool to confirm if the pharmacy is real.

  • Be Wary of Too-Good-To-Be-True Deals: If an online pharmacy is offering medications at a significantly lower price than your local pharmacy, proceed with caution. Often, this is a red flag signaling the potential counterfeit nature of the medications.

  • Say No to Social Media Purchases: Never purchase medications from social media platforms. These avenues are frequently used to sell counterfeit drugs, with no guarantee of their quality or safety.

  • Talk to Your Kids: Have open discussions with your children and teens about online safety, substance use and the dangers of purchasing pills online. Knowing the different social media apps that they use and how they use them can also help you to monitor their online behavior for safety. Remember, find the right balance between trust and supervision, especially with teens. Teens that feel safe sharing their questions and concerns with their parents are more likely to engage in safe online habits and continued conversation that will help you guide them successfully. Click below to read our conversation tips and find more parent resources here.

Additional Tips for a Secure Purchase:

  • Question online pharmacies that don't require a prescription for controlled medications.

  • Only use secure websites (look for "https" in the web address and a lock icon in the address bar).

  • Guard your personal information. Legitimate pharmacies won't ask for sensitive details before you place an order.

  • Get Professional Verification. If you're unsure about the legitimacy of medications received from an online pharmacy, take them to your local pharmacy for testing.

In Conclusion

Purchasing medications online can be convenient, but it comes with risks, especially when it involves unlicensed pharmacies and social media platforms. As a parent, staying informed and adopting precautionary measures is crucial to ensuring the health and safety of your family. Stick to licensed pharmacies, be cautious of too-good-to-be-true deals, and remain vigilant in the online landscape to keep counterfeit medications at bay. Your family's well-being is worth the extra effort.


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