CNET tech sites: Price comparisons | Product reviews | Tech news | Downloads | Site map
Front PageEnterpriseE-BusinessCommunicationsMediaPersonal TechnologyInvestor

News.context: Special Reports | Newsmakers | Perspectives
Watch out for pitfalls of online drug orders
By Brian Livingston
March 2, 2001, 4:00 AM PT

Hundreds of Web sites offer prescription drugs for bargain prices. But you'd have to have a high threshold for pain before you'd want to order from some of these sites.

One global business that's generated numerous complaints is Pharma-International. The company is based in Karachi, Pakistan, but its Web site prominently displays U.S. voice mail and fax numbers.

Pharma-International's home page links to a separate Web site, the so-called Foreign Pharmacies Organization. This site, in turn, offers to send consumers via e-mail a list of foreign pharmacies.

People who request the list, however, receive an automatically generated e-mail that lists only one pharmacy: Pharma-International. A little research into the two sites reveals that they are hosted by the same company.

Although Pharma-International boasts of low prices, consumers have complained that the much-hyped products they've paid for have never arrived.

As a result of such complaints, credit card giant Visa International on Jan. 13 revoked the e-tailer's privilege to accept plastic. The company now instructs customers to pay for orders by sending wire transfers to a bank in Thailand. Boy, that sure inspires my confidence.

Pharma-International failed to reply to repeated voice mails and e-mails seeking comment for this article.

Unreliable online pharmacies that exploit consumers' desires for lower prices are spawned by a real problem: Life-saving drugs can end up costing your life's savings. Canada and some European countries regulate the price of prescription drugs, but the United States and many others do not. This causes wide differences in drug prices around the world. Some entrepreneurs use this fact to promote "no-prescription-required" offers on the Internet.

According to an analysis by U.S. Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., pharmaceutical companies are by far the most profitable industry group in the Fortune 500. Sanders says if distributors were allowed to re-import approved, packaged drugs, U.S. prices would drop 30 percent to 50 percent.

A law to do just that was passed last fall by Congress. But it was not implemented by the Clinton administration, which said deal-killing loopholes had been slipped into the bill at the last minute.

Until real reforms are made, however, consumers can still save money while sticking to reputable sources:

 Use a doctors' alliance: Both the United States and Canada, as well as many other countries, permit consumers to import small amounts of prescription drugs for personal use. Some Americans, therefore, make regular pilgrimages to Mexico or Canada to fill their prescriptions.

But doctors in Vermont have developed a simpler way. They formed a United Health Alliance last year to order drugs cheaply from Canada on behalf of their patients.

Each participating doctor faxes a signed prescription form to a Canadian pharmacy. The pharmacist mails a parcel with legitimate drugs to the doctor. The package is then given to the patient unopened, so the doctor isn't personally dispensing medications.

 Purchase from a verified online pharmacy: If you wish to fill a prescription online without your doctor's involvement, you should use a pharmacy that's verified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Despite the word "national" in its name, the NABP represents state and provincial pharmacy boards throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It certifies trustworthy online pharmacies worldwide.

 Use a pharmacy bot: Consumers who order online should always check the latest prices for drugs using shopping bots, such as DestinationRx, RxBestDeals and mySimon (which is owned by CNET Networks, publisher of

These services compare prices from numerous NABP-certified online pharmacies, including Drug Emporium, Walgreens and

You'll quickly find that you can save more than 30 percent just by using one online pharmacy over another. Be sure to remember that a site's customer service and shipping policies may be as important as price.

And whatever you do, don't send wire transfers around the world to bogus sites just to save a buck.

Consumer advocate Brian Livingston appears at CNET every Friday. Do you know of a problem affecting consumers? Send info to

More Perspectives

who's speaking?
Brian Livingston has published 10 books, including "Windows 2000 Secrets" and "Windows Me Secrets." He has been a contributing editor at PC World, Windows Magazine, InfoWorld and other magazines for more than 10 years. Before his work as an author, Livingston was a management consultant advising financial institutions on computer technologies. In 1991, he received the Award for Technical Excellence from the National Microcomputer Managers Association for his efforts to develop standards in the computer industry.


Latest Headlines
display on desktop
GE sparks market rally
Loss grows for Corel
Microsoft puts a price on IM features
Prices fall for CD rewritable drives
Homestore execs agree to plead guilty
Hotwire double-bills customers
Penguin on the prowl
Web leak of Linux lets Hat out of the bag
PayPal goes international
Who's living large at Terra Lycos?
Crooks will still be crooks
Handspring lays off 20 percent
Nvidia chips grease faster PC link
Bell Labs fires researcher
Enron auction hampers DoveBid site
China arrests Web writer for subversion
Vivendi lays out new strategy
Study: Stop trying to lock out pirates
Computer makers gird for holiday battle
Ulead updates photo software
This week's headlines

News Tools
Get news by PDA
Get news by mobile
Listen live to CNET Radio

CNET newsletters Daily Dispatch

News.context (weekly)

Investor Daily Dispatch

Week in Review

All newsletters | FAQ
Manage my newsletters

Send us news tips | Contact Us | Corrections | Privacy Policy

   Featured services: CNET SearchBar | Hosting Providers | IT Resources | Back to School Guide | Tech Jobs   
  CNET Networks: | CNET | GameSpot | mySimon | TechRepublic | ZDNet About CNET  

Copyright ©1995-2002 CNET Networks, Inc.All rights reserved. CNET Jobs