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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 8 August 2019  

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Dr. Jim Humphries

  Online pet medicine sites and other frauds
  By Dr. Jim Humphries

   I find it interesting that many people do not realize that so much of animal care, veterinary medicine and even the products associated with this industry are highly regulated by state and federal authorities. In this area, we have people with absolutely no formal education who use the internet — and some clever wording — to build a website that makes you believe they are “animal health providers.”
   They will offer to come to your home and give medications, change bandages, even provide specialized therapies that only a DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine) or a CVT (certified veterinary technician) can do. Some of these people even handle class II narcotics without a license. It seems the internet has offered an almost anonymous method of becoming something you are not — and then profiting from it. It’s up to the public to hold those responsible for fraudulent sales accountable.
   Ask questions of anyone who offers to perform any service for your pet’s health to make sure they are properly educated, licensed or certified. The practice of veterinary medicine without a license is in violation of the State Practice Act; therefore, it is a crime. Further, carrying or using controlled substances without a federal narcotics license is a crime that will land a person in prison. Yet, it is happening in our area. Why is this allowed?
   Sadly, I’ve found that our state’s Department of Regulatory Affairs is inept. The veterinary board has thousands of complaints it must work through every quarter –- and there is no way they will do that. Hence, these frauds are allowed to continue. Even if they are called to account, all it takes is an appeal; and the perps are free to continue for years.
   It is appalling that an organization designed to protect consumers cannot do so for lack of leadership and properly managed action to fulfill their mandate. When I speak with county law enforcement, they tell me they are so busy chasing semi-truck loads of illegal marijuana that there is no way they can be concerned about a small time violation of DEA laws.
   Other veterinarians have told me they have reported serious misuses of controlled drugs to the DEA, and they never hear anything back. It appears there is no consumer protection. This means you must be a smart consumer and learn about the bad actors in advance, and vote with your pocketbooks.
   Besides local imposters, there is a lot of fraud on the internet. Just a quick survey on a search engine shows hundreds of sites designed to sell you pet medications at discount rates, and they are happy to put you on a monthly fulfillment service. However, the FDA has found that many of these sites sell unapproved pet drugs and counterfeit pet products; many make fraudulent claims and dispense prescription drugs without requiring a prescription. Some of these sites simply sell expired drugs. Any of these practices could mean that the products could be unsafe or ineffective for your pet.
   In general, the FDA regulates the manufacture and distribution of animal drugs, while individual state pharmacy boards regulate the dispensing of prescription veterinary products. If an online pharmacy does not require a prescription from a veterinarian before filling any order for prescription drugs, it should be a red flag.
   Here are some other things to consider when searching online for pet medications. (From the FDA’s website)
  • Look for pharmacy websites with the extension “(period).pharmacy.” You might be used to looking for the Vet-VIPPS seal on your pharmacy’s website; however, as of late August 2017, that no longer holds true. Under the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s new “Pharmacy Verified Websites Program,” pharmacies must meet strict standards for enrollment. Once accepted, they are given “(period).pharmacy” website addresses to help customers identify trustworthy, worldwide online pharmacies and pharmacy-related websites, so you can safely make purchases.
I recommend ordering from a prescription management service that your veterinarian uses. These state-licensed internet pharmacy services work directly with the veterinarian, require a veterinarian written prescription, and support the veterinarian-client relationship.
   An online foreign or domestic pharmacy might claim that one of its veterinarians on staff will “evaluate” the pet after looking over a form filled out by the pet owner, and then prescribe the drug. But that is likely a sign that the pharmacy isn’t legitimate. Written information — without a physical examination of your animal — might omit important clues to your animal’s condition, and is no substitute for a veterinarian physically examining your animal.
   The FDA is especially concerned that pet owners are going online to buy two types of commonly used veterinary drugs that require a prescription — heartworm preventive medications and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
   These are two examples of diseases that must have a doctor’s understanding before these drugs are given to your pet. There are thousands more. Consumers beware and be smart.

   Dr. Jim Humphries is a veterinarian in Colorado Springs and also serves as a visiting professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. He provides hospice and end-of-life care for pets. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes.
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