Internet And Catalogue Pharmacies: What’s IN That Vial, Anyway?
Internet-based pharmacies want a share of the multi-billion dollar pet medication market.
Some of them don’t care what they do to get it.
Today, Estella came in for a routine vaccination visit. It had been eighteen months since I’d last seen her and I was worried that she might have missed doses of her monthly heartworm preventive.
“No,” Estella’s dad said, “we’ve been getting it online. It’s cheaper.”
What’s wrong with this picture? Several things, sadly.
One, heartworm preventives are prescription medications, controlled by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just like your antibiotics, seizure medications, birth control pills, etc. Such medications require, by federal law, a prescription authorized by a licensed practitioner before a pharmacy can legally fill the prescription.
It matters not whether the medication is for your pet or for you, the same federal rules apply.
Please note that those federal rules are there for your safety and the safety of your pet.Please also note that the Internet-based pharmacy Estella’s family was dealing with was willing to violate those federal rules not once but three times in eighteen months by never obtaining a prescription for her medication.
Second, the “pharmacy” (if I were a pharmacist I would be offended that they use that term) showed not one bit of concern for Estella. Their failure to inquire of us whether Estella’s heartworm testing was current and negative left her at risk for a serious, possibly even fatal reaction. If Estella had become infected with heartworms during this time and continued to take her heartworm preventive she could have died, and the operators of this “pharmacy” could not have cared less.
Third, Estella has a history of hookworm infestation, an intestinal parasite. The heartworm preventive she’s been taking has little or no prevention power for intestinal parasites, therefore is totally inappropriate for Estella! Did any of the illegal prescribers care that Estella was at risk for ongoing hookworm disease? Did they care that they put Estella’s human family at risk for hookworm disease, a zoonotic condition?
Estella came to see me today, but this is far from the first encounter we’ve had with illegal, immoral, unethical and incompetent behavior by Internet-based and catalog pharmacies.
Guidance is a big factor. Your pet’s doctor knows your pet, he knows your pet’s needs and he knows what makes your pet different from other pets.
In Estella’s case, for example, had the family but asked us for guidance on heartworm preventives we would have known to tell them that she needs a heartworm preventive that also has intestinal parasite prevention.
Or, take Molly’s case. Molly’s mom is a college-educated attorney. a very smart lady. When she made the decision to order heartworm preventive online she mistakenly ordered flea control instead. Did anyone at the Internet-based pharmacy she ordered from catch the mistake?
Did Molly get heartworms as a result?
Sadly, yes. (We’re happy to report that her heartworm treatment went smoothly and without complications. And, no, the Internet-based pharmacy did not step up to pay for Molly’s treatment.)
Which brings up another important point. Every ethical pharmaceutical company veterinarians do business with (and we do business with only ethical pharmaceutical companies) stands behind their medications 100%. Whatever the label claim for a heartworm preventive, if it fails to live up to those standards the company is going to make it right. Furthermore, there will be no hassle on your part. Your pet’s doctor will take care of all communications, paperwork and reimbursement, up to the limits of the guarantee. All you need do is consistently purchase your heartworm preventive from your veterinarian so that his computer system has a permanent and continuous record of your purchases.
Guidance is important from the viewpoint of prescription labels, too. Recently we received a request for a prescription to be labeled “Give as directed by your veterinarian.” Had we not taken the time to change the prescription to the correct instructions, the client would have been back on the phone to us asking us for “direction.” In contrast, every medication we dispense already has the correct label in place.
What if our client goes out of town, leaving her pet in a neighbor’s care? Will that neighbor have any idea how to give the medication based on “Give as directed by your veterinarian”? Even if the neighbor called the Internet-based pharmacy, would they be able to give the needed advice? The obvious answer is “No.”
This same prescription request had other problems: misspellings, as well as truncated and unclear instructions.
In fact, the employees and possibly the pharmacists at this particular Internet-based pharmacy had difficulty with counting from “one” to “two”. They titled their form SECOND REQUEST when they had yet to send a FIRST REQUEST!
I call this next story the “worst case scenario.” You may even recall the sad tale from a few years ago in which Kansas City cancer patients who had treatable, survivable cancers were dying at an alarming rate. Their demise was traced to the compounding pharmacist who took the patients’ money, then put one-tenth the proper amount of chemotherapy agent into their infusions. No doubt he made a fortune on the 90% profit he was pocketing, but many patients paid with their lives before he was caught.
If someone will do this to his fellow man, what would he do to your pet?
When you purchase your pets’ medications from me, I have to look you in the eye, and you get to look me in the eye. If there are problems with your prescription, you know where to find me.
The same applies locally with your pet’s doctor. He is someone you can trust. He is someone you know. He is someone you can hold accountable.
Ethical pharmaceutical manufacturers won’t sell to these Internet-based and catalogue pharmacies. Almost weekly I get mail requests from this or that unscrupulous pharmacy asking me to buy medications in bulk to sell to them because they can’t get medications any other way. If the ethical drug manufacturers don’t want to do business with them, why would you?
At the very least, your pets’ pharmaceuticals make the difference between health and illness. Many times it is the difference between life and death.
We want you to consider more than cost when making decisions about your pets’ care.