With seniors and young and middle-aged adult patients facing down the prospect of cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits, they may consult online pharmacies, including unsafe and illegal ones, and cancer frauds to expand their access to affordable drugs and expedite their purchases and, as a consequence, treatment for their illnesses, government and industrial experts say.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and the Food and Drug Administration warn that the perception among seniors and youth of inaccessible drugs in the face of cuts to federal medical insurance benefits could lead to more of them turning to fake online pharmacies and cancer treatment fictions for safe, effective and cheap drugs.
Thus far, the FDA has identified at least 187 phony cancer cures on its website at www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/factsheets/fakecancercures.html. About 23 percent of adults who surf or browse the Internet reported in a survey that they purchased drugs online.
The NABP and the FDA advise seniors to learn as much as possible about the therapies that pass for cancer treatments or safe and affordable drugs, obtain prescriptions if they are legitimate, know the online pharmacies they use, purchase only from a legal and established pharmacy and take prescribed medicines only as directed.
Only three percent of over 10,000 online pharmacies act in accordance with U.S. pharmacy laws. Many suspicious online pharmacies use fronts to convince visitors that they hail from nations with high safety standards.
Doctors are urged to ask their patients where they filled their prescriptions if it turns out that the drugs lack the effect they are purported to have. Fake medications or ineffective drugs can led to adverse reactions, drug interactions and other problems. Some of the results may be mistakenly connected to other causes or cover up other symptoms.
Seniors may consult the FDA’s directives on this issue by visiting http://www.FDA.gov/BeSafeRx.
FDA BeSafeRx is a public health campaign aimed at safeguarding seniors and patients from fake online pharmacies. The website includes warnings of such pharmacies and advice for purchasing drugs safely and printable literature containing similar messages for seniors and patients.
Particularly for cancer frauds, the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs states that common treatments for the illness include pills, tonics, creams or dietary supplements and can be sold by an individual or a company.
Such products or medical devices would need to undergo the FDA review process for safety and effectiveness and gain the agency’s approval before being marketed at www.fda.gov/cder/news/fakecancercures.htm.
However, they do not and, when used, have been found to harm seniors or patients by interrupt treatments or therapies that are known to work. Advertisements and several methods of marketing or promotion are used to push the bogus cures. The Web increases the visibility and use of these products if they are peddled online.
For example, the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, also known as CDER, black salves are among the many fake cancer treatments that have been advanced online. It is illegal for individuals or companies to commercialize salves but they are still promoted on the Web.
The salves are advertised as being capable of curing cancer by extracting the illness from under the skin. However, no scientific research has found black salves to be effective.
In fact, the salves have been known to hurt patients. They are oily and corrosive and work by burning off skin and available tissues. The salves have been reported to damage whole swathes of patients’ skin, leaving much scar tissue.
Additionally, another instance of quack medicine is an herbal treatment called the Hoxsey Cancer Treatment. The FDA has been enforcing ban on this treatment since the 1950s, stating that no scientific research proves that it can treat cancer. Still, the Hoxsey treatment is sold online with claims to the contrary.
The FDA warns patients to watch for the following signs of health fraud for any questionable medication:
- Statements that the product is quick and effective for a number of different illnesses;
- Suggestions that a product can treat or cure severe illness;
- Use of such terminology as “amazing,” “scientific breakthrough,” “miraculous cure,” “secret ingredient,” “ancient remedy,” “hunger stimulation point,” “thermogenesis” or “natural”;
- Restrictions on availability and requested payment advances, and;
- Guarantees of no risk and full refund if a customer is dissatisfied.
The agency urges patients to consult with their primary care or family practice physicians or cancer specialists before beginning a new therapy or adding another to pre-existing ones. Some products may disrupt the manner in which legitimate, proven drugs work to treat patients.
Patients are encouraged to make the distinction between fake drugs and what the agency refers to as “investigational drugs.” These drugs are required to go through clinical testing for safety and effectiveness.
Fake products, however, have not undergone the FDA’s clinical scrutiny and have not been tested or reviewed. As a result, it is a federal crime to market them. Patients may access investigational drugs inside or outside clinical trials. They can learn how by visiting the agency’s site at www.fda.gov/oashi/speedaccess.html.
The FDA has worked with other agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, also known as FTC, to prevent fake cancer drugs from getting to patients. The two agencies sent out at least 135 warning letters and two advisory letters to companies marketing these treatments online.
Both consumer complaints and research into online products by the FDA and members of the Mexico-United States Canada Health fraud working group, also known as MUCH, prompted the creation of the initiative.
Patients in need of more information may consult the following sites on fake cancer cures:
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- Joint FDA/WebMD resource
- FDA: Cracking Down on Health Fraud
- FDA’s Cancer Liaison Program
- National Cancer Institute: Clinical Trails
- Competition Bureau Canada’s Project False Hope
- FTC Announces Operation False Hope
- FDA factsheets on fake cancer cures
- FDA BeSafeRx
- FDA speed access for drugs