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Betting the Pharm

Published February 2023 | In Winter 2023

Is it safe to get your prescription drugs from an online pharmacy? Rapid City Hospital’s Director of Pharmacy has a few thoughts.

Betting the Pharm Media

As much of the world becomes more convenient and more automated, so has medicine. Online companies like Amazon Pharmacy, For Hims, For Hers and others have expanded the ways people can have their prescriptions filled. 

Dana Darger, RPh, is Director of Pharmacy at Monument Health Rapid City Hospital. He said that there’s nothing inherently wrong or dangerous with these online pharmacies. He is leary, however, of some of the motivations behind using these ultra-convenient pharmacies. 

“It’s hard to say if getting your medications prescribed and filled online is safe or not,” he said. “But, some of it can be a bad health care paradigm.” Dana explained that providers are best able to help patients improve their health and wellness when they are working with a complete health care picture. 

For instance, a common prescription drug that patients seek online is sildenafil, a treatment for erectile dysfunction. Some sites like For Hims allow patients to get prescriptions like this generic version of Viagra after filling out an online form and having a brief consultation with a doctor online or over the phone. 

“If you get an online prescription and if you aren’t paying through insurance, there’s no record of you taking this drug,” Dana explained. Prescription records are kept in tandem with insurance in most cases. So, the only way a provider might know that a patient who paid for sildenafil with cash is taking the drug would be if the patient volunteered that information — something that might not happen. Sildenafil interacts with certain heart medications, and if providers don’t have that drug in a patient’s records, and the patient doesn’t disclose that information, the results could be disastrous. 

 “The other issue might be that people are assuming that ED is only a symptom of aging,” Dana said. “There actually could be a lot of different health conditions that could be causing that — serious ones.” Seeking out automation and convenience is only natural. Dana’s advice is not to shortchange your own health care. He said to make the time and cultivate that relationship with your pharmacist and other providers. An online pharmacy, if used responsibly, can be a great tool. But nothing can replace a capable provider with a full picture of your health care needs. 

Online pharmacies and other telehealth services are the future. The FDA has released a guide to navigating online pharmacies safely.

Safe Signs

Your online pharmacy is likely safe if it:

• Always requires a doctor’s prescription

• Provides a physical address and telephone number in the United States

• Has a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer your questions

• Is licensed with a state board of pharmacy

Warning Signs 

Your online pharmacy may be an unsafe website if it:

• Does not require a doctor’s prescription

• Is not licensed in the United States and by your state board of pharmacy

• Does not have a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer your questions

• Sends medicine that looks different than what you receive at your local pharmacy

• The medication arrives in packaging that is broken, damaged, in a foreign language, has no expiration date or is expired

• Offers deep discounts or prices that seem too good to be true

Written by Stephen Simpson