FDA warns against buying prescription drugs on the net or overseas

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consumers and healthcare professionals who fill out their prescriptions abroad are putting themselves at risk.

The FDA says that confusion with drug brand names could lead consumers to inadvertently take the wrong medication for their condition which may have adverse health consequences.

An FDA investigation has found that many foreign medications, although marketed under the same or similar names, may contain different active ingredients than those produced in the U.S. and could pose health risks.

Dr. Murray Lumpkin, Deputy Commissioner for International and Special Programs, says consumers need to be aware of the potential health hazard of filling U.S. prescriptions abroad, either when traveling or when shopping at foreign internet pharmacies.

Lumpkin says that even though the name of a drug bought from another country may be identical or similar to the name on the U.S. prescription, the active ingredients in the medicine may be different and not provide the right treatment.

The FDA's investigation illustrates the health risk inherent in filling U.S. prescriptions abroad and highlights the lack of standardization of drug trade names internationally.

The FDA gives two examples;

  • In the U.S. "Flomax" is a brand name for tamsulosin, a treatment for an enlarged prostate, while in Italy, the active ingredient in the product called "Flomax" is morniflumate, an anti-inflammatory drug.

  • "Norpramin" in the U.S. is the brand name for an anti-depression drug containing desipramine but, in Spain, the same brand name, "Norpramin," is a drug that contains omeprazole, a treatment for stomach ulcers.

The FDA says while some of the identical brand names have different active ingredients appropriate for the same health condition, even these products should not be substituted without the guidance of a healthcare professional because of the potential for different doses, side effects, allergies, and interactions with other drugs.

The FDA investigation has also has found that as many as 105 U.S. brand names have foreign counterparts that look or sound so similar that consumers who fill such prescriptions abroad may receive a drug with the wrong active ingredient.

A good example they give is the UK drug "Amyben," a brand name for a drug product containing amiodarone, used to treat abnormal heart rhythms, which could easily be mistaken for "Ambien," a U.S. brand name for a sleeping pill.

Using Amyben instead of Ambien they say, could have a serious adverse outcome.

For more information, see FDA's Public Health Advisory at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/reports/confusingnames.html.

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