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Many Web sites operate legally and offer privacy, convenience and safeguards for the purchase of medicines. But, that being said, there are also several “rogue Web sites” that appear legitimate and professional, sell potentially dangerous drugs that haven’t been checked for safety or effectiveness.

To that end, a recent CNN article titled,” The Deadly World of Fake Medicine,” highlights the importance of understanding the dangers of counterfeit drugs.

“It is impossible to know the exact size of the trade or its lethal impact – some guesses are as high as 700,000 deaths globally a year. I estimate that bad medicines cause upwards of 100,000 deaths yearly,” writes Roger Bate.

In the United States, drug incidents are on the rise. Fakes of heparin, killed 159 Americans in 2007 and 2008, and many more deaths likely go undetected each year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), provides several helpful safety tips to help safely purchase drugs and also for identifying counterfeit drugs, some of them are listed below.

The definition of a counterfeit drug

A counterfeit drug also known as a copycat or fake, under U.S. law, is defined as those drugs sold under a product name without proper authorization. It can apply to brand name and generic names. They can include products without the active ingredient, with insufficient or excessive quantities of the active ingredient, the wrong ingredient or fake packaging.

Should consumers who purchase drugs over the Internet be concerned?

When purchasing from state-licensed pharmacies in the U.S., consumers can be confident of the quality, safety and efficacy. However, there are sites that sell drugs that are not necessarily legitimate as mentioned above.

When purchasing drugs online, consumers need to look for the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice (VIPPS) seal which indicates the site is FDA-approved. For more information visit the VIPPS Web site.

Don’t purchase from a site that is willing to sell a prescription drug without a prescription.

Don’t give any personal information – such as your credit card and social security number – unless you are sure that the site will keep your information private and safe.

Consumer Protection from Counterfeit Drugs

First and foremost, deal with only state-licensed pharmacies within the U.S. Consumers must be vigilant when examining their personal medications. Pay close attention to the appearance and look for altered or unsealed containers as well as changes in the packaging of the product. Differences in the appearance, taste and unexpected side effects should all be noted and reported to your pharmacist. They will likely know if the manufacturer has changed the appearance, flavor or packaging.

Find your state’s contact information from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) at

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it does cover the most common and important factors to consider. For more information visit the FDA Web site.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, Eastern Shore Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.

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