When you buy drugs from any source you want to be certain that they are in the pristine condition in which they left the factory.
Every actor in the pharmaceutical supply chain has to adhere to a strict set of regulations to ensure that the drugs a patient receives are not damaged or changed in any way. In order to sell medications to the consumer - drug manufacturers, logistics companies, distributors and pharmacies have to adhere to the rules set out by the ICH (The International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use) and the FDA in the US (and similar bodies worldwide such as the MHRA in the UK).
This is because pharmaceutical products can be amazingly sensitive to changing conditions in the supply chain. You may have seen on your box of tablets “these tablets should not be stored at a temperature above 25°C.” This is because temperature is a really important factor when it comes to shipping and storing drugs. As Scott Swaszt director of healthcare markets for UPS says:
"For many pharmaceuticals, a two-degree Celsius temperature variation is all that's needed to spoil the entire lot."
In fact, temperature is just one of many factors that can determine whether a drug that reaches you still works. Humidity, light and even too much movement can all affect whether a drug retains its efficacy.
With this in mind, it’s clear that buying medications online from sources that aren’t subject to the rigorous guidelines enforced in the pharmaceutical industry supply chain is fraught with difficulties. Ordering cheaper tablets online – tablets that may have been stored at 80°C or in very humid conditions – while appearing to be a bargain – might actually be a waste of money – and could even be dangerous.
What’s clear is that when making choices about your healthcare – its crucial to understand all the factors at play. The way in which your drugs get to you, as well as what’s in them – is critical.
Melissa Germain and Jean-Pierre Emond, ‘Understanding the Most Common Problems in Pharmaceutical Mail Order Shipments,’ Pharmaceutical Outsourcing (2012)