CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Patients are turning to the web for medicine cheap. But, in some cases, they're getting pills containing arsenic, paint thinner and rat poison.
Ali Schroer just couldn't shake her symptoms. She experienced terrible migraines.
"I had a colonoscopy because I had a lot of [gastrointestinal] issues," she said.
She started thinking something was wrong with her allergy medicine, pills she bought with a prescription at a pharmacy online.
"I stopped taking them and within six to eight weeks, all my symptoms subsided," she said.
Online, unregulated underworld
Schroer and her sister, Libby Baney, a lawyer, researched online pharmacies. They discovered an online, unregulated underworld. "International criminals making millions of dollars on these websites are going to be able to dupe you," Baney said.
She's talking about illegitimate pharmacies with legitimate-looking websites, criminals posing as pharmacists, peddling bogus medicines, and pills often made with toxins and not medicine. "Rat poison, arsenic, lead, tar, paint, [and] paint thinner," Baney said.
Go online, you will find horror stories.
A few years ago, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy said it "reviewed more than 8,000 [websites] and found 96 percent" led to fake pharmacies.
At one point, the FDA even outed certain online drug stores by name. It warned people to avoid these 24 sites, accusing some of selling bogus Tamiflu, Cialis, and the popular weight loss drug, Xenical. It said some pills were nothing more than "talc and starch." READ MORE.
And just a few months ago, the FBI charged a man with illegally selling more than $8 million worth of pills online, shipping them to 38,000 unsuspecting customers.
While he was in the U.S., many dealers are overseas, out of reach of U.S. law.
Brick and mortar pharmacies make case for themselves
Pharmacists at brick and mortar pharmacies, like Robby Jones at Giant Genie in Plaza-Midwood, said you may find less expensive drugs online, but there could be a dangerous reason why: "If somebody's selling it for $5 a pill and you know it costs $38 a pill, chances are, either it's stolen, which is not a good thing either, or they're truly not what the pill says it is."
Schroer is back taking allergy medication from a brick and mortar pharmacy and warning others. "It's hard to connect the dots. you think you're taking something that's legitimate," she said. Instead, it could be a placebo or worse.
How to tell legitimate online pharmacies from bogus ones
The FDA said watch out for online pharmacies where "there is no way to contact the website pharmacy by phone, if prices are dramatically lower than the competition, or if no prescription from your doctor is required." For more FDA advice click here.
Vetted online pharmacies get to use web addresses with "dot-pharmacy" instead of "dot-com."
Click here to read one verified list.