The prevalence of chronic pain conditions and a deficiency of effective treatments has left many struggling to live normal lives. As the internet becomes more and more a marketplace, many online “pharmacies” have popped up over the past few years to capitalize off people’s pain by selling prescription medication online, some without requiring a prescription.
A 2010 study suggested that chronic pain conditions affect about 30% of adults in the U.S. (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) For conditions like chronic back pain and fibromyalgia, two of the most common pain conditions, there is no established treatment protocol. Patients often find themselves bounced from specialist to specialist who offer no real answers. Physicians may only recommend expensive medications to dull the pain or, on the other hand, refuse to prescribe medication altogether, even if they can’t prescribe another pain management method.
While this may sound like a dream to those who have spent years in pain without relief, it is a very dangerous situation. Prescription-strength medications require a prescription for a reason. The chemistry of pain medications and the body’s reaction thereto is highly complex. A medication may have a number of interactions with other medications, supplements or even food items. It could also be contraindicated by another health condition you may have such as high blood pressure. There may be a number of reasons for you to avoid a certain pain medication, but bypassing the prescription route may leave you unaware of this. Don’t be fooled by sites that claim to diagnose your condition and prescribe medications to you – an online questionnaire is never sufficient grounds to base a prescription on.
A second concern with online pharmacies is that you may not be receiving what you ask for. Drugs sent via pharmacies that are not licensed may be expired, contain no active ingredients or be a different medication altogether. Sham pharmacies don’t operate under regulations designed to keep our medications safe. This is not to say that the FDA has done the best job of assuring the safety of our medications, but unregulated markets pose even greater risks than poorly regulated ones. There are reputable online pharmacies that require prescriptions and receive inspections to ensure they comply with state and federal laws. The best way to sort these legitimate pharmacies from disreputable ones is to refer to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies to find out if a particular online pharmacy is licensed. See www.nabp.net for information on trustworthy online pharmacies, as well as a list of untrustworthy ones.
Only use online pharmacies that offer you free access to a pharmacist, whether by phone or at a physical location. You may have questions concerning the use of your medication, or you may want to double-check possible interactions. The pharmacy you choose should ensure that those questions be answered.
If your doctor is not finding chronic pain management options that work for you, seek out a different health professional. Many states allow you to pursue physical therapy or chiropractic care without physician referral. Drugs are not the only or the best way to experience pain relief. If you do take the medication route, be sure you’re limiting the risk to your health by only using the services of credible pharmacies.