National Network Study Highlights Dangers in Online Purchasing of Chemotherapy Medication

Sea of Pills

Since prices of imatinib (Gleevec) remain high, patients on oral chemotherapy are looking for alternative methods to access this life-saving medication. In this 2022 study, the authors assessed the accessibility of imatinib through online pharmacies and analyzed each website for medication safety, price, and marketing tactics.

They searched the term “buy imatinib online” using 4 commonly used internet search engines and screened web pages displayed in the first 10 pages. Websites were included if they were published in English, sold imatinib, were free to access, and offered shipping in the United States. Websites were classified using LegitScript’s categorization as “certified,” “unclassified,” “unapproved,” or “rogue.” We analyzed information on websites’ patient safety characteristics, marketing techniques, pricing, domain registration information, and IP addresses.

Of the 44 online pharmacies identified, only 3 (7%) were certified, and the remainder were classified as rogue (52%; n=23), unapproved (30%; n=13), or unclassified (11%; n=5). Thirteen online pharmacies (30%; 9 rogue, 4 unclassified) sold imatinib without a prescription. Nearly one-quarter (n=10) of online pharmacies selling imatinib did not include drug-related warnings on their websites, and nearly half (n=21) did not limit the purchasable quantity. More than three-quarters (n=34) of online pharmacies selling imatinib did not offer pharmacist consultations, even though nearly all websites extended offers to speak with sales associates (91%; n=40). Most online pharmacies selling imatinib claimed price discounts (95%; n=42), but fewer provided bulk discounts (23%; n=10) or coupons (34%; n=15). One-third of rogue pharmacies selling imatinib (n=7) claimed to be registered or accredited on their websites.

The authors conclude: “The lack of safety measures taken by illegitimate online pharmacies endangers patient safety because they allow patients to purchase imatinib without appropriate evaluation for response, drug interactions, and adverse effects. Healthcare providers need to be aware of this practice and should assure patient access to imatinib through safe and legitimate pharmacies.”

JNCCN – Official Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network – Vol. 20 Issue 7 – July 2022

Authors: Yujiao Sun, PharmD,   Adam Hendrix, PharmD, Benyam Muluneh, PharmD, BCOP, CPP, and Sachiko Ozawa, PhD, MHS

View the report.