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A virtual pharmacy is a pharmacy that has a presence in the virtual world or Internet (World Wide Web). They vary from simply an expansion of land based pharmacies like CVS Pharmacy or Walgreens in the United States who needed to add the capability to serve patients from the comfort of their home, to completely virtual examples that refer patient’s prescriptions to various land based pharmacies throughout the globe, this process is similar to drop shipping. The consumer basically finds their favorite virtual pharmacy through search engines like Google or Yahoo, explains their symptoms, look at the recommended drugs and fills out an online questionnaire that is forwarded to doctor for approval. If the doctor approves the patient’s request he writes a prescription and forwards it to nearby pharmacy who then ships it the patient, sometimes in as little as 18 hours. Virtual pharmacies are booming businesses online today.
Often virtual pharmacies will employ several certified pharmacists and physicians who review your request, then fills your prescription, and dispense the drugs, usually within a day or so. These services are provided from a remote site, while using technology, in this the order is accessed by the web browser and filled by the pharmacist. After they have filled the prescription, the medications are shipped overnight via FedEx; these also help in providing online care without a visit to the doctor.
Advantages and benefits
A wide selection of drugs, free medical consultation, free and speedy shipping, and unbelievably low prices, really low prices for online drugs, no online consulting fees, are a few of the benefits to be derived from a virtual pharmacy. All you have to do is go online, find the site, browse the different medications available, prices and categories of the drugs online, without restrictions, or a prior prescription. You just click on your symptoms, and a variety of drugs instantly appear with the description and prices, all you have to do is choose the one you want click on it and select “buy”. In doing this you eliminate the prescription fee, the long waits in line, visit to the doctor, and doctors’ fees.
Disadvantages and dangers
But on the negative side, virtual pharmacies sometimes import counterfeit drugs into the US drug supply; these importations may also damage drug safety on an international level. They also import cheap foreign replicas of many U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs; this can pose a serious health risk to consumers. The dispensation of drugs from a pharmacist to a person they don’t know or have not seen, can prove to be very dangerous. Many of these imported drugs are also expired or contaminated and stored under unsafe or inappropriate conditions. The drugs which are dispensed without a prescription by a doctor eliminates the possibility of being checked by a licensed professional, and treated accordingly, resulting in patients not receiving appropriate medications, and not being aware of the dangers associated with improper administration. Another drawback to using an online pharmacy is, that you get what you buy, there is no way for you to return it, as there is no forwarding address. Factors independently associated with importation are age greater than 45 years, south or west region of residence, Hispanic ethnicity, college education, poor or near poor poverty status, lack of U.S. citizenship, travel to developing countries, lack of health insurance, high family out-of-pocket medical costs, trouble finding a healthcare provider, fair or poor self-reported health status, filling a prescription on the Internet, and using online chat groups to learn about health.
The FDA conducted a survey in early 2000, and found out that there are almost 300 or 400 internet sites which are marketing prescription drugs to end users, half of these are domestic, and the other half with locations outside the US. They have taken the position that the end users are at risk if they purchase prescription drugs from virtual pharmacies, which are not licensed within the state pharmacy law. The FDA has also banned the importation of unapproved, adulterated and misbranded drugs from the US, and is unable to monitor the huge volumes of importations into the country on a daily basis. They are unable to take action against these virtual pharmacies, as they are not aware of the physical location of the pharmacies.
Virtual pharmacies are not registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) but, when the laws are followed, each and every pharmacist or doctor that writes or fills a prescription through a referral from a virtual pharmacy IS personally licensed. Often the foreign based pharmacies, specifically out of Mexico and India have no legal basis and are violating numerous federal laws and are at risk of being convicted for drug trafficking. On the flip side, the prescribing and filling of non-controlled drugs in the US is still legal, most of the pharmacies are registered with the DEA and a licensed US doctor looks over the medical questionnaire and determine whether or not patients can get their prescriptions filled.
Controlled (Scheduled) Drugs - are classified as medications which are often misused, e.g., Morphine, Xanax, and Codeine as well as other sedatives and stimulants ranging from widely illegal drugs like methamphetamine or cocaine to diet pills like generic Phentermine or Adipex-P. It is illegal to purchase any DEA scheduled drugs without a prescription some even to process them period. There are thousands of controlled drugs which are all registered by the DEA. The severity of the control lever ranges for I to VIII, i.e., I and II being completely illegal to process even with a prescription, III to VIII only requiring a prescription written by a doctor whom the patient has a local relationship with.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as aspirin and mild analgesics used in the temporary relief of pains. There are also a number of drugs that DO require a prescription but not a personal doctor patient relationship or recent physical within the past year.
These include but are not limited to:
1. Tramadol(Generic Ultram)
3. Fioricet (Butalbital)
4. Soma (Carisprodal)
6. Ortho Tri-Cyclen
Past and present
Currently, the FDA and DEA are trying to cut down on the amount of unregulated shipment of drugs to the US. And as soon as they are able to get that under control, the future of the many virtual pharmacies popping up all over the internet will be addressed. Many of the popular land based pharmacies and drug store chains like CVS, Walgreens, Target, Wal-Mart, Rite Aid etc. began jumping in head first to create a presence in the virtual world. CVS being the first to open and operate a virtual pharmacy in 1999 with Soma.com. Soon after, Drugstore.com released their own site and went public on Feb. 27th, 1999, they immediately claimed to be the world largest Pharmacy/Drugstore because they were able to offer so many products and prescriptions virtually at consumers fingertips without the cost of storing them at individual retail locations. And many of these pharmacies have made part of their web page mail-order pharmaceutical processing centers and e-pharmacies.
There is currently no law which states that it can be licensed or regulated, and until this is done, they will remain anonymous online suppliers of drugs. However that does not stop them from being a sought-after alternative to a doctor’s visit, prescriptions and hassles in getting the drug you require.
An FDA report in early 2000 suggested there are approx 300-400 virtual pharmacies in operation. A similar report revealed there are now over 2000 in existence today and are continuing to grow rapidly.
- Drugs, FDA. "Approved Drugs" (12/03/2014). Retrieved 1 September 2015.
- Zullo, Andrew R.; Dore, David D.; Galárraga, Omar (2015). "Development and validation of an index to predict personal prescription drug importation by adults in the United States". Journal of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research. doi:10.1111/jphs.12088.