Dozens of illegitimate online pharmacies sell imatinib, an oral chemotherapy drug for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), putting patients at risk for toxicity and treatment failures, researchers found.
Of the 44 online pharmacies selling the drug to U.S. customers, of which 52% were classified as “rogue”, 30% as “unapproved” and 11% as “unclassified”, 13 did not require a prescription for imatinib, and only three asked about the health status of patients, Sachiko Ozawa, PhD, MHS, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues reported.
Of the three websites deemed “certified,” only one asked patients to complete a health-related questionnaire, and most of the 44 websites (77%) offered no way for patients to consult a pharmacist, noted them up in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
“We noticed how easy it is to buy an oral chemotherapy drug online, since imatinib is not a benign drug,” Ozawa said in a press release.
The tyrosine kinase inhibitor can be very effective in CML if administered properly. But even if the imatinib dispensed by online pharmacies is authentic, patients still need medical professionals to evaluate their medical histories and other medications for potential drug interactions to avoid treatment failure, wrong doses or toxicity, the researchers noted. authors on.
“Given the need to adjust imatinib for drug interactions and organ dysfunction, taking the standard daily allowance of 400 mg can be life-threatening for some patients,” she added.
Note that 70% of rogue websites and 60% of unclassified websites did not impose any quantity control over how much imatinib patients were allowed to order at a time, Ozawa and team said, and 23% of online pharmacies had no medicine. -related warnings on their websites.
Patients may turn to online pharmacies because of the cost of the drug, the authors noted. For the branded version of imatinib, Gleevec, the median price available with a GoodRx coupon was $10,513.66 (range $9,968.87 – $10,515.08) per month. For the rogue websites reviewed in the study, the median price for 30 pills was $2,704 (range $195-$4,597.99), and unapproved websites had a median price of $2,697.50 (range $1,682- $4,463).
“The exorbitant price of oncology drugs is a major barrier to optimal therapy of many malignancies, including CML,” Bernard Marini, PharmD, BCOP, of the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, who was not involved in the study, told the press. release.
But relying on online pharmacies, which are difficult to distinguish from legitimate pharmacies, can be risky at best and life-threatening at worst.
Co-author Benyam Muluneh, PharmD, BCOP, CPP, also of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, urged patients to consider talking to a health care provider or financial advisor for help getting the expensive drug , and noted that some foundation grants can also help patients with the costs.
For this study, Ozawa and team used the search term “buy imatinib online” on Google, Bing, Yahoo! and DuckDuckGo and looked at the first 10 pages of results for each. Websites were included in the analysis if they were active, sold imatinib for shipment in the US, and were freely accessible.
Using LegitScript, which evaluates regulatory compliance by online pharmacies, the researchers ranked the online pharmacies from most to least secure.
The “rogue” classification meant they were selling counterfeit, expired, unbranded or fake products; sell drugs without a prescription; and operating without valid pharmacy licenses.
The “unapproved” category meant they had some compliance or legal issues, such as operating legally in one location but not another, while “unclassified” meant they were not classified in the LegitScript database.
Because Ozawa and colleagues only used a few search results, they estimate that the market is actually much larger than just the 44 pharmacies they found.
“Healthcare providers should be aware of the prevalence of illegitimate online pharmacies and the dangers patients may face from using them,” they wrote.
The authors have reported no disclosures.