The name of the Food and Drug Adminsitration's new public awareness campaign, "BeSafeRx," has the same ring to it as the websites you aren't supposed to be trusting: "expressrx4les," "healthydrugsonline," "ineedmypill.com" and 10,000 others that the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy identified and recommends against.
It also comes off, at first glance, as a bit of a no-brainer. Don't buy pills from the people spamming your inbox -- it's like not accepting unwrapped Halloween candy from your creepy neighbor, except riskier. But the FDA's survey of over 6,000 people revealed that only 13 percent of those who had purchased drugs online checked to see if the site was licensed. Almost one in five admitted to purchasing medications from websites that weren't affiliated with their local pharmacy or health insurance plan, and 47 percent of those same people relied on comments and reviews to verify the drugs' safety.
In person, we know the basic warning signs of potentially unsafe medications: if they're sold by some dude in a back alley instead of your pharmacist, or aren't protected by layers of frustratingly effective protective seals, something's wrong. As NPR reminded us this week in a piece about the 30th anniversary of the Tylenol poisoning episode that lead to safety seals on pill bottles, it would seem we've learned these lessons well, but maybe we're so used to the internet being the solution for everything that it's become easy to forget how great the risks of buying unvouched-for medications can be. The Internet is your friend, right?