Illegitimate online pharmacies that sell imatinib may endanger patients with cancer, according to research published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

“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,” the researchers wrote.

To identify illegitimate pharmacies selling imatinib online, researchers entered the term “buy imatinib online” into 4 common search engines—Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and DuckDuckGo. 


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The team identified and analyzed online pharmacies that sold imatinib, were free to access, had websites in English, and shipped to the United States. The researchers used LegitScript to determine if the pharmacies complied with applicable laws and regulations.

Pharmacy Classification

The researchers identified 44 pharmacies that fit the aforementioned criteria. Only 7% of these pharmacies were classified as “certified,” which means they have been vetted by LegitScript and are being monitored. 

More than half of the pharmacies (52%) were classified as “rogue,” which means they engage in illegal, unsafe, or misleading activities, such as selling counterfeit, misbranded, or expired products. 

Thirty percent of the pharmacies were classified as “unapproved,” which indicates that they have some problem with regulatory compliance, but it is less serious than the problems seen with rogue pharmacies. 

The remaining 11% of pharmacies were unclassified, as they were not in the LegitScript database. 

Lack of Prescriptions, Information 

Overall, imatinib was sold without a prescription by 30% of the pharmacies, including 39% of the rogue pharmacies and 80% of the unclassified pharmacies. 

Some information about imatinib administration was provided by 75% of the pharmacies. However, 23% did not provide any drug-related warnings, and 14% did not include recommendations to seek physician advice. 

Some of the illegitimate pharmacies claimed to be registered with regulatory bodies, including 77% of the unapproved pharmacies, 30% of the rogue pharmacies, and 20% of the unclassified pharmacies.

The pharmacies attracted buyers through various strategies. Patient testimonials or blog posts were included on many of the pharmacies’ websites—78% of the rogue, 67% of the certified, 62% of the unapproved, and 40% of the unclassified pharmacies. 

In addition, 95% of the pharmacies advertised price discounts on imatinib, 34% offered coupons or promotional codes, and 23% had bulk discounts. 

Cost Savings

The online pharmacies did sell generic imatinib and Gleevec at lower prices than those seen at traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacies.

The median price for 30 tablets of generic imatinib was:

  • $787.20 (range, $136.05–$9053.91) at brick-and-mortar pharmacies
  • $296.18 (range, $165.00–$427.35) at certified online pharmacies
  • $234.66 (range, $28.50–$1342.99) at rogue pharmacies
  • $284.69 (range, $126.00–$683.00) at unapproved pharmacies
  • $115.00 (range, $65.00–137.50) at unclassified online pharmacies. 

The median price for 30 tablets of Gleevec was:

  • $10,513.66 (range, $9968.87–$10,515.08) with a GoodRx coupon at brick-and-mortar pharmacies
  • $2704.00 (range, $195.00–$4597.99) at rogue pharmacies
  • $2697.50 (range, $1682.00–$4463.00) at unapproved pharmacies
  • Unavailable at certified or unclassified pharmacies.

“Given the prohibitively high cost of cancer medications, patients with cancer and providers have been attracted to online pharmacies that promise more affordable medications. However, medications that are much cheaper may be compromised,” the researchers wrote. 

“Patients may have difficulty discerning whether specific online pharmacies are legitimate, because both certified and illegitimate websites used similar marketing tactics by claiming price discounts, providing offers to speak with sales associates, and assuring privacy. Healthcare providers need to be aware of the prevalence of illegitimate online pharmacies and the dangers patients may face by utilizing them.”

Reference

Sun Y, Hendrix A, Muluneh B, Ozawa S. Online pharmacy accessibility of imatinib, an oral chemotherapy medication. J Natl Compr Cancer Netw. 2022;20:808-814. doi:10.6004/jnccn.2022.7007