DES MOINES. Attorney General Tom Miller and leaders of Iowa's public health and pharmacy communities today cautioned Iowans to avoid Internet purchases of the drug Cipro for anthrax.
"The bottom line is that taking Cipro now, when it is not needed and not prescribed by your doctor, puts you at greater risk of it not working later if you might actually need to take the drug," Miller said. "Fears about the threat of anthrax are understandable," he said. "The threat of anthrax is something to be concerned about, but we should not let fear drive us to waste our money or risk our health."
Miller was joined at the news conference by State Epidemiologist Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, and Nancy Bowersox, R.Ph., Vice President for Clinical Pharmaceutical Services of the Iowa Pharmacy Association. Both are members of the Iowa Task Force on Antibiotic Resistance.
Dr. Quinlisk warned that antibiotics are serious medicines with sometimes substantial side effects. "If you take an antibiotic such as Cipro when you don't need it, resistance to the antibiotic could make it ineffective if it ever should become necessary to treat an infection in the future," she said.
"The public should remember that all the testing for anthrax in Iowa has been negative to date," said Nancy Bowersox of the Iowa Pharmacy Association. "If anthrax should be found, there will be ready access to the needed antibiotics. The federal government says that it has adequate stockpiles of medication that could be delivered to Iowa within six hours."
Miller said his office is investigating Internet web sites that sell prescription drugs such as Cipro or may be making misleading claims for anthrax cures. "Of course, Cipro is currently the 'hot' drug to sell," Miller said. "It is almost beyond belief that con-artists would take advantage of people's fear in such a way, but there are reports of hundreds of new Internet web sites selling Cipro since September 11th. Miller said that his office was working with other states and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate illegal sales and misleading claims.
Miller warned that these "on-line pharmacies" may not require an in-person consultation with a physician, may not be supplying the actual drugs they advertise, and may be overcharging for the drugs they do sell. He added that the sites may be violating various state laws regulating physicians and pharmacists as well as consumer fraud laws. In order to buy a prescription legally in Iowa it is necessary to buy from a pharmacy licensed to do business in Iowa using a prescription written by your physician.
News reports have indicated a huge increase in public interest in the purchase of anthrax antibiotics, Miller said. For instance, on Tuesday, The Washington Post ran a story titled, "Cipromania: Selfish -- and Dangerous." The story quotes Stuart Levy, an antibiotics expert at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, saying, "It's a bad idea, a terrible idea" to self administer an antibiotic. "People can and do die as a result of antibiotic misuse."
Some of the web sites also are selling various air filters, gas masks and air-sterilization devices that purport to provide protection from anthrax or other air-borne diseases, Miller noted.
Miller issued several tips for Iowa consumers considering buying prescription drugs on-line.
- Use a licensed pharmacy. Pharmacies selling drugs in Iowa must be licensed by the Iowa Board of Pharmacy. The license helps insure that the pharmacy is dispensing only safe, FDA-approved drugs. Buying drugs from an "off-shore pharmacy" increases the risk that the drugs are impure or adulterated. You can learn if an online pharmacy is licensed to do business in Iowa by calling the Board of Pharmacy Examiners at 515-281-5944 or checking the board's website at www.state.ia.us/ibpe.
- Don't trust a "virtual doctor" -- consult your own physician. Use only prescriptions written by your own doctor. Web sites that offer an on-line consultation may not be giving you the best advice and may be violating Iowa law. An actual, in-person examination often is needed to determine whether a drug is safe for you.
- Beware of scams. Drugs sold by some Internet companies may be over-priced. In some cases, hidden charges such as "consultation fees" are added to the cost of the drug itself. Web sites also may require you to sign a waiver giving away your right to sue if you are defrauded or harmed by using a drug they are selling.
The officials agreed that if Iowans wish to use an on-line pharmacy for legitimate prescription needs they should choose one that is licensed to do business in Iowa and that requires a valid prescription from a physician.
Miller said various government agencies are looking into the issue and deciding what actions to take. The FDA has alerted customs officials to stop private shipments of Cipro from overseas at the border. Iowa, other states and the FTC are looking at possible investigation and enforcement options in addition to warning the public.
"The best advice always is to consult your physician if you have any questions or concerns about specific illnesses or medications," Miller said.
More information on anthrax and Cipro is available from the web site of the Centers for Disease Control at http://www.cdc.gov/.
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