Online pharmacies are pharmacies that sell medication, both over-the-counter and prescription-only, on the web. They have gained popularity recently with an increase in online shopping. Consumers prefer getting medication from the comfort of their own home rather than having to go to a pharmacy near them, in-person.
Risks of Online pharmacies
Apart from the comfort of using an online pharmacy to order your medication, online pharmacies do not have any other specific advantage. In fact, the disadvantages are far more than the one advantage.
Online pharmacies might be easier to use but they might also put consumer’s health into jeopardy. With online pharmacies, there is no ‘checkpoint’ to evaluate the drug being delivered. Online pharmacies have been known to cut corners to gain profit. More often will a pill that has less amount of medicine than the dosage you ordered.
In some cases, the pill might contain the right amount of drug but with the addition of a harmful chemical or the entire pill may be harmful for consumption but cheaper to make.
Consumers do not realize the risk of what they are consuming as they do not realize that they are consuming anything apart from what they ordered; the pure medicinal pill. This can result in the long term and short term side effects that can be detrimental to one’s health.
Furthermore, these pharmacies sell prescription-only drugs without prescription. This makes it easier for people suffering from substance abuse problems to get access to these drugs. Some online pharmacies in the UK also sold codeine in their online store, resulting in an increase in addiction rates.
What’s even more worrying is that these pharmacies do not just sell the medications that are FDA approved but also medications that aren’t licensed or approved yet. This can cause severe damage to a person’s health, especially since most consumers do not check if a medication is approved or not. Most consumers automatically assume any medication in the pharmacy to be approved for normal use.
What can be done?
Researchers from Penn State University have developed an algorithm to search the web and clampdown on these illegitimate pharmacies. The team of engineers worked on this algorithm so they can let the consumers know if the pharmacy is legitimate or not, or in other words, if the online store can be trusted or not.
The main aim of the algorithm was to differentiate between the good and the bad pharmacies online. However, the researchers faced the question of how can you tell, what makes an online store good or bad.
How does the algorithm work?
Hui Zhao, one of the contributors to the research, claimed that separating the good from the bad is ‘daunting’. According to the team of researchers, the algorithm works by first creating a baseline for good pharmacies and then compare this with pharmacies on the web. The one’s that do not follow the ‘good pharmacy’ guideline is basically tagged as a ‘bad pharmacy’.
The algorithm also looks into referral websites that promote the illegitimate pharmacies. If it finds multiple pharmacies on a referral website to be ‘bad pharmacies’ then it automatically concludes that the other pharmacies on the website must also be illegitimate.
They aim to provide alerts on the web so when a consumer tries to access these websites, they know that it has been reported to be an illegitimate pharmacy. They are hoping that other service providers like Amazon will adopt this algorithm into their search engines as well.
This algorithm, according to the team that developed it, is not just for the consumers to be alerted but also for the policymakers and government so they can crackdown and ban these pharmacies, which make up to 75% of all online pharmacies.