Today there are many options for consumers to purchase veterinary medications. In the past, the veterinarian supplied prescriptive and non-prescriptive drugs and medications directly to the client. The rise of internet pharmacies has given the client the ability to buy medications indirectly through a third party. The advantage to the consumer has been better pricing and the convenience of home delivery, rather than having to visit their veterinarian’s office to fill or refill prescriptions. The disadvantages, mostly unknown to the consumer, includes but is not limited to a significant percentage of these online medications being counterfeit, near or exceeding their expiration dates, and they may very well not have been stored properly therefore significantly reducing their effectiveness, if not rendering them totally ineffective and/or endangering their pet. The reason for this is that the online pet pharmacies are not legally permitted to buy their supplies directly from veterinary pharmaceutical companies. They have to rely upon diverted merchandise from veterinary practitioners for the merchandise that they will then turn around and sell to pet owners. It is not illegal for veterinarians to sell their supplies to these companies, however, it is violating their contracts with the veterinary pharmaceutical companies to sell their drugs to these online pharmacies. The veterinary pharmacies do their best to police the situation, but it is obviously difficult to determine which veterinarians are violating their contracts by diverting drugs and supplies. When they succeed in determining when drugs are being diverted, that veterinary practice loses its ability to purchase products from that particular pharmaceutical company. Because these online pharmacies are dependent upon veterinarians diverting products, the quality and origin of these products has to be questioned. If you are the type of veterinarian who needs to divert products in violation of your contract with the pharmaceutical companies in order to make a quick buck, then what type of reputable person are you? Would you try to make even more money by diverting poorly stored inventory? Would you knowingly divert counterfeit drugs? Is your ability to practice veterinary medicine that poor that you have to resort to being a middle-man to divert medications to generate a profit? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is yes. At least twice monthly I receive offers from online veterinary pharmacies to start a new business relationship that they say is 100% legal and risk free. They tell me that this opportunity is a simple, no-risk profitable exercise. All I need to do is make one or two phone calls and they will take care of the rest. And it will be done totally confidentially. Really? This is the way legitimate companies operate? By the way, most of these companies are based in Florida; it’s not a coincidence. It’s a lot easier to distribute counterfeit medications arriving from the Caribbean when you’re that close to the source.
One of the main reasons why the veterinary pharmaceutical companies want their drugs distributed by a veterinarian and not a third party is to ensure that a proper veterinary-patient relationship is intact so that their products are not misused and/or prescribed inappropriately. In addition, quality control is maintained as the veterinarian is much more likely to store the medications properly and turn over their inventory on a regular basis to avoid buying in bulk and prescribing expired or soon to be expired medications. Maintaining distribution of an effective, quality product is not only important for your pet, it is important for the reputation of the company for its products to be seen as safe and effective when utilized in a proper manner. It is not about maintaining higher prices for their products. Most if not all veterinarians today will price match medications for their clients so that their clientele can purchase their pet’s medications at a more reasonable cost, all the while being assured that the drugs freshness or effectiveness has not been compromised and guaranteeing that the drug is not counterfeit. These are not trivial concerns. When it comes to purchasing veterinary drugs online, buyers should beware, says a top official from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine. In fact, in a recently issued consumer alert, Dr. Martine Hartogensis, director of the FDA’s Office of Surveillance and Compliance, says that while some websites selling veterinary drugs represent legitimate businesses, others do not. In fact, FDA regulators have documented unscrupulous practices relating to the sale of unapproved and counterfeit pet drugs, dispensing of Rx drugs without a prescription and sale of expired drugs. Even the so-called legitimate businesses deal primarily in diverted products. And while the risk is present for consumers purchasing bogus, unapproved products through foreign and domestic pharmacies, “CVM is especially concerned that pet owners are going online to buy two types of commonly used prescription veterinary drugs—non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) drugs and heartworm preventives.” Both drugs can be dangerous if given without involvement by veterinarians, Hartogensis reports.
If you’ve ever searched online for prescription pet medicines, you’ve no doubt seen eye-catching, attention-grabbing claims. They sound convincing in their promises of convenience and lower prices. But are these claims really true? Internet sites that sell pet drugs can be reputable pharmacies. However, others are fronts for businesses breaking Federal, State, and sometimes, International laws. Illegal online pharmacies may sell medicines that are counterfeit, outdated, mislabeled, incorrectly formulated, or improperly made or stored. These medicines may not contain the actual drug, or the correct amount of drug, may contain contaminants, may not work as well due to age or being stored in conditions that were too hot, cold, or humid, and may not have the proper directions for use. If you are unhappy with ordered products, in the end, you may find buying prescription pet medicines online more costly to your pet’s health and your wallet. If you find a cheaper medicine online, ask your veterinarian to consider matching the price. If the prices offered are dramatically different than the competition, the drug is most likely of dubious quality or origin. As mentioned previously, many veterinarians are willing to competitively charge based on the online price you’ve found (and can show proof of). You should also know that neither the drug maker nor your veterinarian will stand behind a product’s guarantee if you purchase the product online.
Counterfeit drugs are fake or copycat products that can be difficult to identify. The deliberate and fraudulent practice of counterfeiting can apply to both brand name and generic products, where the identity of the source is often mislabeled in a way that suggests it is the authentic approved product. Counterfeit drugs may be contaminated, not help the condition or disease the medicine is intended to treat, lead to dangerous side effects, contain the wrong active ingredient, be made with the wrong amounts of ingredients, contain no active ingredients at all or contain too much of an active ingredient, and/or be packaged in phony packaging that looks legitimate. Using medicine that contains an active ingredient that wasn’t prescribed may be harmful. The FDA continues to proactively protect consumers from counterfeit drugs. The agency is working with drug manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to identify and prevent counterfeit drugs. The FDA also is exploring the use of modern technologies and other measures that will make it more difficult for counterfeit drugs to get mixed up with, or deliberately substituted for, safe and effective medicines.
While online pharmacies can be an inexpensive and convenient alternative to purchasing these drugs through a veterinary office, pet pharmacies are not regulated the same way human pharmacies are. If the FDA and the DEA have trouble keeping human pharmacies on the level, what do you think the level of control aimed at online veterinary pharmacies is? These online outlets know that the legal ramifications of your pet’s drug reactions can’t touch companies of their size. As long as counterfeits and questionable expiration dates abound in the online pet drug marketplace, its buyer beware all the way.
Veterinarians and online pharmacies have had a rocky relationship from the start. When online pharmacies first started selling medicines, many vets were worried that their already slim profit margins (even though vet care is expensive, most of what you pay your vet ends up going to his suppliers, his landlord, his employees, utility companies, the IRS, and regulatory agencies) would be reduced by the loss of income-generating drug sales. This concern has not panned out as expected. Well-managed veterinary hospitals do not derive much income from drug sales. In the hospitals where I have worked (and owned), medications were offered to clients more for their convenience than for our profit. And this makes sense. A veterinarian’s job is to manage the health of pets, not to sell drugs. So why is there a lingering animosity between vets and online pharmacies? Probably because some of my patients have received an expired or ineffective medicine from an online pharmacy, and I’m sure I’m not alone. My conversations with representatives from drug manufacturing companies assure me that this occurs on a relatively frequent basis. They also claim that some online pharmacies unwittingly distribute counterfeit medications that have no efficacy. In my opinion, if you order from a reputable online pharmacy the odds of receiving expired or counterfeit medicines are low, however, it does indeed occur on a regular basis.
In addition, working with online pharmacies can be very frustrating for a veterinarian. For instance, one internet pharmacy habitually refuses to write instructions on the drugs it dispenses. If a veterinarian sends a prescription to the pharmacy and indicates that the medicine should be taken twice daily, they will dispense the medicine with instructions to “take as instructed by veterinarian”. In the best case, this wastes the veterinarian’s time, as clients will call to ask how often the medicine should be given, when the information has already been provided to the pharmacy. In the worst case, it puts the patient at risk of being either over or under dosed. Another pharmacy routinely sends faxes to my office requesting authorization for prescriptions. I promptly fax back authorizations (after offering the client the opportunity to purchase the medication for the same price with the guarantee that it’s not counterfeit, diverted, etc). The next day, I often receive faxes from the pharmacy, written in a somewhat threatening tone, stating that they have not received my authorization. This confusion on the part of the pharmacy is very annoying, and it also causes me to lose confidence in their business in general. If they can’t manage their fax system, how can I expect them to dispense drugs accurately?
In summary, many pet owners are seeking lower prices for medications needed by their pets through the use of online pet pharmacies. The best way to assure yourself that the medication you purchase is safe, has been stored properly, is genuine and has not been diverted is to purchase the medication directly from your veterinarian. The products we sell on our veterinary website meet all of these criteria and are competitively priced for our clients, eliminating the need for them to search out and be scammed by the less than legitimate online pharmacies that are currently operating.
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