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Adverse Consequences of Internet Purchase of Pharmacologic Agents or Dietary Supplements

Della Kwan, Joseph Beyene, and Prakesh S Shah

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BACKGROUND: The Internet is commonly used to advertise and sell medications and dietary supplements directly to consumers. Prescriptions are often not needed, and consumers may engage in unmonitored and risky health practices. No systematic attempt has been made to evaluate reported cases of adverse events following such purchases.

Objective: To systematically identify and examine reported cases of adverse events associated with the purchase of medications and dietary supplements from the Internet.

Methods: MEDLINE (1990–June 2009), EMBASE (1990–June 2009), IBIDS (to June 2009), TOXNET (to June 2009), bibliographies of identified articles, and Web sites of relevant health ministries and professional associations in the US and Canada were reviewed to identify eligible articles that describe adverse events associated with the purchase of medications or dietary supplements from the Internet.

Results: Thirty-two reports of 41 cases of adverse consequences of pharmaceutical products (n = 31) or dietary supplements (n = 10) were identified. Purchases were made by people in the 30- to 50-year-old age group in 36% of cases. Prescription medications were implicated in 27% of cases and narcotic and controlled drugs were implicated in 49% of cases. Drug abuse was responsible for harm in 73% of cases, whereas adverse drug reactions occurred in 27% of cases. Nine (22%) patients died as a result of adverse consequences following such purchases. The remaining patients suffered serious adverse events such as seizures, liver damage, and hallucinations.

Conclusions: An unexpectedly large number of case reports were identified from the literature; however, these reports do not fully illustrate the magnitude of the problem. Life-endangering adverse consequences signify a need for increased regulation and control of Internet Web sites and a need for healthcare provider involvement. Pharmacists should know where their patients obtain medications, how to verify the validity of the sources of prescriptions, and how to report adverse consequences.

J Pharm Technol 2009;25:355-60.

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