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I-Team: Online Prescription Drugs May Be More Than You Bargained For

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Ginger Allen
Ginger is the Senior Investigative Reporter of the CB...
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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Rat poison. Talcum powder. Highway paint.

These are just some of the ingredients investigators say you could be ingesting if you are buying your medications on line.

The CBS I-Team decided to put this to test. We ordered some pills and sent them to a Pfizer lab.

The US Food and Drug Administration estimates as many as 40,0000 rogue sites sell fake drugs at discounted rates. And they do not require prescriptions. Some studies show one in six Americans have purchased them.

Dallas resident Jeanne Miller is among those who buys her drugs online. She has survived Hodgkin’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer without prescription drug insurance. It’s not easy and it is very expensive.

“When you’re dealing with things like that…you use a lot of prescriptions,” says Miller.

Miller turned to online pharmacy where she says she could save up to 30-percent.  Miller says the site she orders from is legit. It requires doctors’ prescriptions.  But the CBS I-Team has learned her experience may be an exception.

“You are actually  gambling with your life, “ says Matthew Bassur, Vice President of Global Security for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.  He says behind most of the smiling happy faces on what appears to be legitimate Americanized sites is a manufacturing plant that you would never go inside.

“These meds are coming from factories around the world that are implorable, unfit, unsanitary. You wouldn’t want to walk into these factories, no less, ingest a pill from these places. It’s disgusting.”

(courtesy: Pzifer)

(courtesy: Pzifer)

Bassur showed us pictures he says Pfizer investigators have taken at overseas raids of illegal plants where prescriptions are “cooked.”  They show bins of bottles they say have been collected from nearby hospitals and then recycled. Hundreds of the bottles float in dark-colored, murky water.

Bassur says, what’s worse is what the criminal counterfeiters are often cooking into these pills.

(courtesy: Pfizer)

(courtesy: Pfizer)

“We see the wrong ingredient, too much active ingredient, and then we see the rat poisons, the boric acids, the wall board, printer ink, lead paint.”

The I-Team randomly chose a site and bought Viagra because it is the most counterfeited drug in the world.  It requires a prescription, but the website did not ask us for one.  “Nizagara” arrived in the mail. Pfizer representatives told us this is an unapproved generic.  We sent it to a Pfizer lab for testing and learned the little blue pills did have some of the active ingredient of Viagra, but each one also had nearly a full dose of another drug, Diclofenac. Diclofenac is a painkiller used to treat inflammation and relieve arthritis.

“All very dangerous if one is allergic….” Bassur talked about how extremely dangerous unknowingly taking a drug can be especially if it interacts with another prescription you are already taking. He and other Pfizer representatives showed us pills covering a table. They explained how difficult it is for them to distinguish between real and counterfeit cholesterol and cancer fighting drugs.

Bassur called this a “life threatening issue” saying it would be difficult to know how many people are getting sick and dying from taking these pills.

The I-Team also ordered what we thought was Viagra from another online pharmacy. Again- we were not asked for a prescription although the medication requires one. Once again, we received what Pfizer called an “unapproved generic.” The FDA has not approved generic versions of Viagra. This time the pill was labeled “Filagra”

CBS 11 also found a website which touts headquarters in Los Angeles and Houston. It even shows pictures of the buildings. The high rise in Houston appears to have the name of the pharmacy across the top of the building; however, CBS 11 asked our affiliates in both Los Angeles and Houston to visit these locations for us and we couldn’t find the buildings shown on the website. In fact, the addresses for the “International Order Department” and the “The USA Branch Office” did not appear to exist at all.

Even Jeanne Miller, who believes she has on-line ordering figured out, agrees you need to be careful. “I’ve been using them for a long time and I know they are working.”

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy recommends only ordering from sites accredited through “VIPPS,” The Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites. You can watch for the VIPPS logo on online pharmacies where you shop. Investigators warn you to be leery of most other logos which may appear to be endorsing the sites.

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