JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Buying medicine online can be convenient and cheap, but it can also be deadly.
The US Government Accountability Office released a report this week that says online pharmacies are a growing danger.
"Americans want cheaper medicine," says Dr. Daniel Kantor, Vice President of the Duval County Medical Society. "American’s pay more for medicine than anywhere else in the world, and the world is now a smaller place thanks to the Internet."
The FDA reports one in four people go online for rock bottom deals, but a recent study by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy of 10,000 online pharmacies found that 97 percent don't comply with federal regulations, and 88 percent don't require a prescription.
The GAO reports says the sale of misbranded or counterfeit drugs is a growing danger.
"These pharmacies may not be licensed, may not be in the United States, may not even be in the Western Hemisphere, or even in a country you've ever heard of," says Kantor.
Kantor knows the danger firsthand. He purchased from an online pharmacy recently, just to see how legitimate it was.
"It just didn’t look right, there were certain things that didn’t make sense."
Kantor found the product was fake, so he reported it to the FDA and the case is under investigation today.
Most overseas products, he says, aren’t approved by the FDA, and the risk is extreme to some patients.
"Doctors want the best for their patients so we prescribe them the medicine they need, but they may not be treated if the medicine isn't the real thing. Worse, if it’s another chemical, that chemical could be toxic to you."
But shutting down illegal online pharmacies is a challenge for the US government.
In June, the FDA targeted 1,677 unregulated pharmacies and seized $41 million in illegal medications, but an estimated 33,000 are still in operation, mainly overseas.
According to Libby Baney with the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, federal regulators must have cooperation from other governments to be effective.
"They need to work internationally with those regulators and law enforcement in those countries where the bad guys are located, or where the money is, or where the drugs are sourced from, which requires multi government collaboration."
To protect themselves, Kantor says patients must purchase from a licensed pharmacy, that requires a prescription, and has a pharmacist on hand.
He says you should also check with your doctor when you find a deal that sounds too good to be true.
"If you’re going to try to save money, it’s going to take a little bit of research to make sure you’re saving money and still staying safe."
Kantor says patients should also beware that some unregulated online pharmacies may sell patients personal information to third parties.
Patients can refer to the following websites to check the legitimacy of an online pharmacy:
Florida Board of Pharmacy: http://www.doh.state.fl.us/mqa/pharmacy/