Online Medications: The Digital Snake Oil?

Snake Oil

As a healthcare provider, I am always gratified to see patients get sound medical treatment and recover from their illnesses. However, as we all know, the unfortunate truth is that not every medication works for every patient. That's why scientists do clinical studies. We can review these studies to confirm the odds that a given drug will be effective. Finding a study with a 100% cure rate is pretty rare, if not non-existent, and the reason why I have a concern with all of the treatments available on the Internet. Unscrupulous sites can publish their "snake oil" as the "cure-all" medicine with little or no proof. "Our [place favorite herb/vitamin/supplement here] will get rid of/cure/alleviate [place disease state here]." Even comedian Jim Gaffigan makes fun of ineffective supplements. He challenges his credit card purchase for Extenze because it didn't work. And he keeps getting disconnected. For those of you who don't know what Extenze is ... well, you're lying (Jim's suggestion, not mine). However, what's worse is when the promoter of questionable treatment is a person of trust.

John Oliver has a segment calling out Dr. Oz who promoted nutritional supplements as "magical." In other words, without scientific evidence. Dr. Oz and has done some really great work for people in the past, but this was disappointing:

So what does all of this mean for you? Since we know some sites are unreliable and untrustworthy, why not put your energy into finding healthcare sites that are reliable and trustworthy?

On Pharmatica's Patient Education page under "Accreditation," you will find several references for verifying the validity of a healthcare website. For example, a VIPPS Online Pharmacy is certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) to be licensed to dispense legitimate medications to U.S. citizens. NABP also provides a list of certified pharmacies on their own website. The domain name, “.pharmacy," ensures global consumers that the medications dispensed from these sites are legitimate and not counterfeit. Obtaining the ".pharmacy" domain is explained at Lastly, Health On the Net (HON) Foundation issues HONcode certificates to websites that provide reliable online health information. Certificates shouldn't be too hard to find and are usually found at the bottom of the site's page.

So do yourself a favor. If you are considering the purchase of supplements or prescription medications online, spend a minute perusing the site for accreditation or check them out using the sites above. You just might save yourself a phone call to your credit card company while also avoiding that "Snake Oil" salesman.

- Mr. Glen, R.Ph.