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posted: 9/18/2012 8:16 AM

Demonstrate ample caution when purchasing prescription drugs

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OK. It happened again. Overnight my spam box became filled with solicitations to purchase online drugs.

What's more, several creepy requests found their way into the subject line of my daily emails disguised with some attractive group of words that lured me to open them. "Good News!" "Get high school skinny now!" "I wish you good luck."

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You'd think I'd learn.

Perhaps if I needed some high-priced prescription or I lived way out in the country, I might consider one of the online enterprises. But, quite frankly, purchasing anything online goes against my personal policy to support local brick and mortar businesses first and whenever possible.

Yet, we're all free to choose. This is America.

Still, with more than 40 pharmacies in Naperville, you'd think a local pharmacist would be safest and best.

I first became interested in this topic several years ago after my cousin visited Mayo Clinic. She came back to Naperville with a prescription in hand to help treat her aplastic anemia, a condition that affects bone marrow and its production of new blood cells.

To control costs, her insurance company suggested she order her prescriptions from its affiliated online pharmacy, a recommendation she rejected in order to keep all of her records with her local pharmacist.

More recently, a series of reports in The Wall Street Journal attracted my attention about the production and sale of bogus drugs, vitamins and other health care products, increasingly prevalent, especially online. Nearly every month a story seems to appear about a raid on counterfeit pharmaceuticals some place in the world that could have ended up right here in the U.S. via online sales.

Reports caution that even though many patients now purchase prescription drugs online through a national pharmacy chain or some mail-order program offered by health insurance, it's important to be mindful of the risks in light of the growing production of fake pharmaceuticals.

The more I read, the more I'm convinced the safest way to purchase medication is from an authorized pharmacy, where the prescription is kept on file and monitored to prevent over-prescribing that could come from multiple online purchases.

Certainly, I'm well aware that medical errors exist and a pharmacist's mistake can affect well-being, too. Still, the pharmacists I've known are highly skilled and knowledgeable professionals intending to deliver vital health care.

At any rate, I took my cousin's advice and visited the Mayo Clinic website to consider the pros and cons of protecting consumers.

The website offers an enlightening page with a check list of how to avoid medication errors, whether purchasing online or via a pharmacy. You can find it at www.mayoclinic.com/health/buying-prescription-drugs-online/GA00042.

A bit of common sense advice is to never order any drug online without comparing packaging, labels, pills and spelling to the genuine product.

Counterfeiters have targeted vitamins, antibiotics, antivirals, heart medications, cancer drugs, over-the-counter allergy pills, pain killers, attention deficit disorder, hypertension, diabetes and psychiatric drugs -- even erectile dysfunction drugs.

To sum up, it's prudent to stay within the physician network for prescriptions. Self-treatment could be more harmful than healthful. Go through your physician and be sure to get what the doctor ordered. Purchase only from a pharmacy licensed by the Food and Drug Administration that keeps your record of prescriptions on file.

Meanwhile, try to prevent disease and perhaps you won't need pharmaceuticals. Study nutrition. Enjoy a healthful diet with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Keep moving.

Diets rich in fresh fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and chronic diseases, while providing essential vitamins and minerals, fiber and other nutrients. Plus, most fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories and they fill you up naturally.

Finally, I'll always be grateful to Dr. Butterfield's nurse, Martha, who focused my attention on good, healthy choices via nutrition and exercise when I was going through puberty. It seems like just yesterday -- and back then there was no Internet.

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