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Don't risk health or career by using online pharmacies

Maj. Christina D. Zotto
PharmaCARE element chief

One of the areas of the Internet that's getting a lot of attention is the use of Internet physician and pharmacy services. Just go to any online search engine and type in "Internet pharmacy" and countless Websites offering online prescription services will pop up. While buying medications online may sound convenient and confidential, these sites range from legitimate pharmacy businesses to illegal drug operations.

Online pharmacies can provide a quick and private way to get medications. The legitimate pharmacies can be used with confidence. They will require a written prescription from your healthcare provider and have a method available for you to speak with a pharmacist about your medication. They also will usually be able to bill your health insurance.

These pharmacies have the same medications that are available in your local retail pharmacy, and operate under the same standards and laws as a traditional pharmacy. In fact, most of the national retail pharmacy chains offer online pharmacy services as a convenience to their customers.

On the other hand, questionable or illegitimate sites typically offer their customers medications without prescriptions. Many of these sites specialize in "life style" drugs or controlled substances. Visitors to the site just fill out a questionnaire and after a "cyber consultation" with a doctor the prescriptions are mailed directly to you. Be aware that many states do not consider an online consultation to be a valid patient-physician relationship.

A valid patient-physician relationship is required to make a prescription legal under federal pharmacy law. Since many of these pharmacies operate outside the United States, it is important to know that currently under federal law purchasing medications from a non-U.S. pharmacy is illegal. These unregulated sites also pose some serious health concerns.

Buying medication from pharmacies which operate outside the law puts consumers at a higher risk for receiving counterfeit, contaminated, impure or unapproved drugs. There is no guarantee the medication you get will be appropriate for your condition or that it won't worsen an existing or undiagnosed problem. There's also no guarantee you'll actually receive the medication you ordered.

It's also important to note that in accordance with AFI 48-123, 36-2104 and 41-210 it is the personal responsibility of all active duty Air Force members to report all healthcare received outside the Military Healthcare System to the Medical Treatment Facility (the local military clinic or hospital where they normally get care) within three days of receiving that care. This includes all care (including prescriptions) received via IPPS or elective care "downtown."

Why risk health or an Air Force career when TRICARE provides comprehensive healthcare at no cost to active duty personnel? TRICARE also provides complete healthcare at little or no cost to dependents and retirees. Also part of TRICARE benefits is the TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy, which can be accessed online through www.tricare.osd.mil. Much of the TMOP prescription ordering process can be completed on line and prescriptions are mailed to the purchaser's door.

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