20/20 Retrospective


Many of you may have seen the ABC 20/20 report from a week or so ago that reported on the safety of purchasing medications online. As usual, Big Pharma teamed up with their friends at NABP, ASOP, and LegitScript to scare us into thinking that any and all purchases of prescriptions online is 100% unsafe. The evidence proves otherwise. Here are just a few things to keep in mind:

Rogues Do Exist, But Legitimate Foreign Online Pharmacies Exist Too

You cannot paint every online pharmacy with the same brush. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research supports the fact that many online pharmacies are selling legitimate prescriptions – and for significant cost savings to American patients. Here’s a snippet from the NPR story linked above:

“They obtained 328 drug samples from 41 online pharmacies based in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Europe or Asia. Eight of the websites were U.S.-based providers verified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, LegitScript.com, PharmacyChecker.com or the Canadian International Pharmacy Association. Those websites were classified as Tier 1 and sold high-quality, authentic drugs. (The researchers established the drugs’ authenticity through detailed, chemical analyses.)”

We know bad actors (rogues) exist and they solely are focused on deception and defrauding American consumers. They sell truly counterfeit drugs – ones that don’t have any active pharmaceutical ingredient (API, “the thing that makes the difference” if you will, in medications) and their inactive ingredients (sometimes called fillers, which all medications have) sometimes are harmful if ingested. More on inactive ingredients in a second.

We advise that individuals who do purchase their health maintenance drugs online follow strict rules:

  1. Never use an online pharmacy that doesn’t require a valid prescription from your physician.
  2. Never use an online pharmacy that is not licensed by its provincial/government licensing body, e.g., College of Pharmacy/Pharmacists.
  3. Never use an online pharmacy that doesn’t have a physical location or telephone number.
  4. Never use an online pharmacy that doesn’t ask about personal health history and other drugs you are taking.

You can always verify an online pharmacy through the CIPA website.

Subsequent to the ABC story, an article was published by the International Business Times that referenced the legitimacy of online pharmacies in Canada, and even mentioned the verification of a select few Canadian online pharmacies by CIPA and PharmacyChecker.

Even LegitScript’s founder and CEO, John Horton, commented:

“We’ve seen that in some cases the drugs are genuine. They are the real thing.”

Yet, Mr. Horton continues to fight against importation from Canada and directly supports the efforts of Big Pharma to scare people into thinking online purchasing of prescriptions from outside the U.S. is always unsafe. We think he knows better, but he can’t bite the Big Pharma hand that feeds him!

Active vs. Inactive Ingredients and What Unknown Impurities

We are still trying to ascertain who independently verified the ABC 20/20 reports’ assertion that so-called “unknown impurities” in their tests were harmful.

We are not stating that counterfeit medications don’t contain harmful ingredients. We are simply asking, “What were the “unknown impurities” that the ABC 20/20 analysis found? Why are we concerned? Because – and we are now using a LegitScript/John Horton tactic – semantics make a difference here. Why?

All medications have two major components: active and inactive ingredients. The former is usually abbreviated API, or active pharmaceutical ingredient. In layman’s terms, this is what makes the medication work. For example, in the popular cholesterol-lowering medication, Lipitor, the API is a chemical known as atorvastatin.

Inactive ingredients can be inert fillers, binders, and colorants. Often, but not always, these can have little or no impact on the efficacy of the medication, but can change the color and shape. In fact, when Lipitor went “off patent” a few years ago, many who were taking the popular brand name drug, but who were hoping to save money by taking the generic were concerned about the differences in the pill. To be sure, this is an oversimplification, but the point is ABC and the story’s backers aren’t giving the full picture.

Brand name and generic drugs will differ in their inactive ingredients (sometimes) but always have the same API. Period. And Big Pharma knows this.

ABC’s report didn’t indicate what the “unknown impurities” were in a few of the drugs they tested. Were there simply differences in fillers? Or were they actually harmful impurities, which are found in the truly counterfeit medications? This is an important point. Semantics matter – and we think this should be clarified.


We are firm believers that safe, affordable, legitimate medications can be sourced online through verified, licensed Canadian pharmacies. We are disappointed that ABC simply followed the money carrot being held in front of them by Big Pharma to conduct this “investigative report” without truly taking an unbiased tack. There are many questions still to be answered from this story by ABC. We hope they will revisit this important issue – in an unbiased way – very soon.