The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned consumers about buying antiviral flu treatments over the internet. The FDA issued this warning after it tested "Tamiflu" purchased over the internet. Most of the products contained oseltamivir, the active ingredient in the original Tamiflu, but at varying concentrations. Some were pretty obviously a problem, such as one of the orders that arrived in an unmarked envelope with a postmark from India, and consisted of unlabeled, white tablets taped between two pieces of paper. These tablets contained talc and acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), but no oseltamivir.

The commissioner of Food and Drugs, Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D, stated in the FDA press release that “Medicines purchased from Web sites operating outside the law put consumers at increased risk due to a higher potential that the products will be counterfeit, impure, contaminated, or have too little or too much of the active ingredient.”

Another issue is that a drug like Tamiflu needs to be given very early in disease to have any effect. If you think you’re getting the flu and order Tamiflu over the internet, it’s pretty unlikely to have any chance of working by the time it actually arrives (if they send you the appropriate drug in the first place). Then there’s the concern that few people actually need to use Tamiflu compared to the number that do, and that viral resistance to Tamiflu may develop with unnecessary use.

Bottom line: if you really need medication, you should get it from a reputable source on the recommendation of a physician. If your pet needs mediciation, you should take the same approach. It’s hard to be certain about what you’re getting if you order it through the internet, especially from companies that are illegally selling prescription drugs. It might seem cheaper to buy drugs over the internet, but if it’s not needed or it’s fake, it’s going to cost you more in the long run.