The Internet has opened new doors for people seeking medical information and even prescription drugs. But whether you're looking for facts or pharmaceuticals, it's buyer beware.

"You can get a lot of information on the Internet and there are very good sites. I think those with dot-org or dot-gov are best" for reliable medical news, said Robb Dengg, pharmacist at LDS Hospital. "But you have to know there's as much false information as good information out there, so beware and ask about the information you find."

Everything pharmaceutical is the topic of today's Deseret Morning News/Intermountain Health Care Hotline. From 10 a.m. to noon, Dengg and his colleague Rich Cox will answer questions on topics ranging from drug interactions to how to avoid getting second-rate drugs online. They'll also talk about preventing bad drug mixes, what questions to ask a physician or pharmacist and how to make sure you take medications as safely as possible.

Dengg said he personally doesn't recommend ordering medications over the Internet, simply because it might be hard to contact someone who can help if there are problems.

That doesn't apply to health insurance plans, for example, that authorize clients to do mail-order refills online.

Cox acknowledged that the high price of pharmaceuticals sometimes leaves people with no choice.

"Sometimes (online purchases) can save you money and that's a plus. I talk to people about the safest way to be sure they're getting what they think they are," he said.

Face-to-face interaction seems to yield the most information, both to the pharmacist and to the patient, Cox noted. It's not the same when you're just calling a drug-information telephone number.

The other issue with buying medications over the Internet is finding out exactly what you're getting, Dengg said. "You don't know that you're getting what you think you are. It might not be the same drug, might not be as pure, might not be what's approved in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration," he said. "And it might be. You can't tell. You could be getting the best drugs out there, but you just don't know."

Ordering from a foreign pharmacy online can be worse, because some drugs have different names in different countries. That means the local pharmacist might not be familiar with a medication by the foreign name.

Because of the low prices and its proximity, some people get their medications from Canada. Rumors abound that some of the Canada sources may not be legitimate, Cox said.

The same problem arises with some herbal supplements. Pharmacists are concerned that adulterated products could be sent to people. "If you're going to use herbal supplements, do your homework on the manufacturers of that supplement. You don't know exactly how much (active ingredient) is in each pill."


E-mail: lois@desnews.com