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When a pill is poison instead of a cure

Published: Tuesday, May 12, 2015 @ 5:30 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 12, 2015 @ 5:30 PM

Ali Schroer's fight against illegal online pharmacies began in 2007, a year she seemed to have symptoms of a disease without actually having a disease. 

There were intense headaches and stomach pains so severe that she eventually underwent a colonoscopy but doctors had no diagnosis to offer. 

Schroer wondered if something was wrong with her allergy medicine that she bought online.

"I stopped taking them and within six to eight weeks, all my symptoms subsided," said Schroer.

Today she is convinced those pills, which she ordered through an online pharmacy, were fraudulent and not actually Allegra.

"It's hard to connect the dots," Schroer said. "You think you're taking something that's legitimate."

Her experience led her sister, Libby Baney, to establish the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies. The group's mission is to help patients separate the good online pharmacies from the bad. Fraudsters offer to ship pills, often without a prescription, to unsuspecting customers. Sometimes they offer a discount.

"International criminals making millions of dollars on these websites are going to be able to dupe you," Baney said.

The counterfeit pills even bear the same logos as the real thing. Baney said they can be made with toxins like rat poison, arsenic, lead and paint thinner. Pills often made with toxins to look real.
The FBI arrested a man accused of running an illegal online pharmacy out of a shopping center in Washington D.C. He is accused of distributing fraudulent drugs to 38,000 customers and making more than $8 million. 

Many dealers are overseas and out of reach of U.S. law. Experts said brick-and-mortar pharmacies protect patients in a way the web cannot.

"We check the medications before they go out to the patient," said Donney John, a pharmacist at NOVA ScriptsCentral in Falls Church, Va. "We do the best we can to verify that it's the right drug for the right patient."

Patients like Schroer who have a legitimate prescription and want to fill it online can find vetted online pharmacies at websites like LegitScripts.

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