The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers that a significant number of Internet pharmacies are scams and could sell counterfeit drugs that are doing more harm than good.

The agency recently launched “BeSafeRx”; a program that’s designed to inform the public about the dangers that exists about shopping online for medications. Many people look to the Internet for medications because of the convenience and savings they receive.

There are several things that are found wrong with Internet prescriptions:

- The drugs are fake
- Drugs contaminated
- They exceed their expiration date
- They have no active ingredient
- They have the wrong dosage of active ingredient
- They contain toxic chemicals like rat poison or arsenic

Any of these could be deadly to folks, leading to a rise in resistance to the actual medicine, produce new side effects or cause harmful interactions with a person’s other medications.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg, FDA commissioner, said the goal is to bring awareness to the issue. She said people shouldn’t be scared to use Internet pharmacies just use the right ones. The right ones, she said, are the following:

- U.S based pharmacies
- Pharmacies licensed through the pharmacy board
- Licensed pharmacist on hand to handle questions
- Pharmacy must demand a doctor’s prescription for medication

Any Internet pharmacy that claims there’s no reason to have a prescription or that the pharmacy’s doctor can write one is in violation of the law.

According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, only three percent of the thousands of Internet pharmacies actually follow federal and state laws. Based on their website, only a handful of online pharmacies are legitimate.

The FDA conducted an Internet survey, which found that the majority of consumers had no knowledge of this. It also found that one in four online shoppers purchased prescription medication through the Internet and that three in 10 didn’t think they could purchase the prescriptions in a safe manner.

The move by the FDA is in response to this year’s high-profile cases where counterfeit drugs reached American patients. The FDA, both in February and April, warned cancer clinics and doctors that they purchased fake “Avastin”, which is an expensive, injectable cancer medication. It’s been noted that the fake Avastin came from either Eastern Europe or Asia and were sold through a network of dubious wholesalers before they were sold to a number of clinics by a U.S.-claimed wholesaler.