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How we gave the dagger to internet pharmacies (Proceedings)

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Aug 01, 2011

Internet pharmacies are well funded, very profitable and have cannibalized our customers and there's no sign of stopping. Metzger Animal Hospital has utilized several strategies to minimize the staffing problems and financial impact of this formidable threat to veterinary medicine. We will share our successes and failures in hopes to help practices with similar problems.

Some of the Internet sites that sell pet drugs represent legitimate, reputable pharmacies, says Martine Hartogensis, D.V.M., Promotion and Advertising Liaison for FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). But others are fronts for unscrupulous businesses operating against the law.

FDA has found companies that sell unapproved pet drugs and counterfeit pet products, make fraudulent claims, dispense prescription drugs without requiring a prescription, and sell expired drugs.

Pet owners who purchase drugs from these companies may think they are saving money, says Hartogensis, but in reality, they may be short-changing their pet's health and putting its life at risk.

CVM regulates the manufacture and distribution of animal drugs, while individual state pharmacy boards regulate the dispensing of prescription veterinary products.

When ordering online

     1. Order from a Web site that belongs to a VIPPS-accredited pharmacy.
     2. Mail the prescription provided by your veterinarian to the pharmacy after your pet receives a physical examination.
     3. Order from an outsourced prescription management service that your veterinarian uses.

Red flags

Some foreign Internet pharmacies advertise that veterinary prescription drugs are available to U.S. citizens without a prescription. Consequently, there is a risk of the drugs not being FDA approved.

A foreign or domestic pharmacy may claim that one of its veterinarians on staff will "evaluate" the pet after looking over a form filled out by the pet owner, and then prescribe the drug

CVM is especially concerned that pet owners are going online to buy two types of commonly used prescription veterinary drugs—nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and heartworm preventives.

Both drugs can be dangerous if there is no professional involvement. It's not a concern if the owner uses a legitimate online pharmacy and mails in a prescription from their veterinarian, who is monitoring the animal. But if there is no veterinarian–client–patient relationship, it's a dangerous practice.