Entries in Online (9)


FDA: Beware Buying Prescription Drugs Online

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A moving target of as many as 40,000 active online pharmacies, a huge majority of them fly-by-night start-ups, may sell products at a cut-rate price but they may also deliver expired, contaminated and fake drugs that can harm consumers, the FDA said Friday.

"You have no guarantee of the safety, efficacy or quality of those products," Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told ABC News. "You want to go to an online pharmacy that is licensed, located in the United States, [and] importantly, that will ask for a prescription from a doctor."

On Friday, the FDA launched BeSafeRx, a national campaign to alert consumers to the possible dangers of buying pharmaceuticals online.

"This a real problem. In fact, it is a growing problem, it is a problem that we are doing everything we can ... to try and protect the safety and security of the drug supply chain," Hamburg said. "The consumers have a role to play, as well, and that's why we want them to be informed about how to recognize a safe and legal online pharmacy so they can get those drugs that they really do need."

In May, the FDA surveyed more than 6,000 adults and found that almost a quarter of Internet shoppers bought prescription drugs online, and three in 10 said they weren't confident they could do so safely.

What many consumers don't realize is they are more likely online to get fake drugs that are contaminated or past their expiration date, or contain no active ingredient, the wrong amount of active ingredient or even toxic substances such as arsenic and rat poison.

They could sicken or kill people, cause them to develop a resistance to their real medicine, cause new side effects or trigger harmful interactions with other medications being taken.

Just how easy is it to set up an online pharmacy?

Two University of California, San Diego medical researchers showed ABC News how they set up their own fake drug store using search engines, Facebook and Twitter to draw potential buyers, and no pharmaceutical degree or any medical license, is required to set up any of these websites.

Timothy Mackey, a doctoral student in the joint doctoral program between San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego created a fake pharmacy in less than 15 minutes and for less than $80.

"We basically created a Web app which is very descriptive and has a medical professional, a picture of a person that we just purchased, and we were able to post it online without any verification or requirements at all," Mackey said.

A hit-and-run pharmacy is lightning fast to start and even faster to disappear -- all before authorities can catch up.

"The bad guys know when they're getting chased, so they just shut down with a minute, and then literally within another hour they've set themselves right back up again," said Brian Liang, head of the Center for Patient Safety at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. "What it's telling us is that there's clearly no enforcement, and Facebook and others in this space are making money off of illicit drug sales."

Liang and Mackey said their mock sites saw more than 1,000 unique users in the 10 months they were active. The outgoing links they included went to a "dead page," and they did not actually sell any pharmaceuticals.

While there are some legitimate online pharmacies, about two percent according to the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, how can you tell which are legitimate and which are fake?

According to the FDA, watch out for sites that ...

1. ... allow you to buy drugs without a prescription;
2. ... offer deep discounts that seem too good to be true;
3. ... send unsolicited emails offering cheap drugs;
4. ... are located outside of the United States, beyond the reach of regulators.

"If you find out about the website because of spam or unsolicited email, be very, very careful," Hamburg said. "If the price is bedrock cheap and it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. And if it is not located in the United States and it's offering to ship drugs worldwide, another red flag; don't go there."

Liang added that when they were searching for online pharmacies, the first 10 pages of hits was comprised entirely of fake pharmacies, and they did not come to a legitimate site until page 10 in the Google search results.

The new "BeSafeRx" website allows consumers to check a pharmacy's license through state boards of pharmacy, as well as providing tips for shopping online and seeing the signs of a fake pharmacy.

"We want consumers to be able to get safe, effective, high-quality drugs," Hamburg said. "And if they want to order them online that is terrific, but use a safe and legal online pharmacy."

"The important messages," Hamburg added, "are have a prescription, know your online pharmacy, make sure it is safe and take your medication as directed."

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy also recommends only using Internet pharmacies accredited through Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites or Vet-VIPPS program. It also provides a listing of "Not Recommended Sites."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Online Grieving: Support a Keyboard Away

Zach Whiteman via Reddit(KOKOMO, Ind.) -- On March 8, a young man marking a painful anniversary went to and posted three short sentences and a photograph depicting a heartbreaking story of young love nipped in the bud by cancer.

"A year ago today, I proposed to the love of my life. She passed away 5 days later due to ovarian cancer. She was only 17," he wrote in words that moved more than 1,800 members of Reddit's online community to respond.

When strangers asked why he proposed to a dying woman, the young man, identified only as koolaidman2011, explained: "We found out she wasn't responding to her treatment two days after I proposed, and she only got worse after that. The doctor hadn't told us the severity of her situation at that point in time. So yes, I proposed to her just as any person would. I never could have imagined she wouldn't be here today."

By choosing to share such raw emotion in an open forum, koolaidman2011 might have been seeking an outlet for his grief, empathy for a searing loss and perhaps a chance to connect with others who'd endured similar pain. New to the site, he said he'd only been registered a couple of days when he posted his story of lost love.

The vast majority of responders to his online grieving offered kindness and compassion. Several shared losses of parents, siblings, and lovers, and how they'd gotten through them.

And yet, for what might only be explained as the darker side of human nature, some people, shielded by their online names, posted nasty comments.

Their anonymity is "part of the danger," of posting to a general audience, said Gary M. Laderman, an Emory University religion professor who specializes in death and dying. "More often than not you have aliases, different avatars, different ways to identify yourself where you can shield your true identity."

That emboldens some people to "be really rude, whether it's some kind of story on the politics of the day, or really personal issues," Laderman said. Even though most people would assume that common rules of decency would prevail, "online and on the web, those things are out the window."

Despite the veil of anonymity, little is truly private in the digital age. When one user apparently recognized the woman in the photograph as Morgan Brantley, some quick online searches turned up several stories about Morgan Alizabeth Brantley, a Kokomo, Ind., high school senior and varsity swimmer whose illness and death united her community. The Kokomo Tribune also covered how Zach Whiteman, a fellow senior and varsity basketball player, put a ring on her hand during a bedside marriage proposal.

From Brantley's diagnosis on Dec. 17, 2010, through her death on March 13, 2011, friends and loved ones posted thoughts and prayers on three Facebook pages, raised money for medical expenses and sported "Team Morgan" T-shirts designed by Whiteman. The "Pray for Morgan Brantley," page featured the same photograph Whiteman posted on Reddit.

Whiteman, now a college freshman, didn't respond to attempts to reach him through Reddit and Facebook to learn whether the online posting provided any solace.

"If it's only been a year since his fiancée died, his grief is still very fresh," said bereavement counselor Pamela Gabbay, program director of the Mourning Star Center for Grieving Children in Palm Desert, Calif. "I think that he was focusing on the positive, his memories and his love for her, and never thought that people would be negative, mean and cruel."

Many younger people reared in the online age "are more comfortable expressing their most intimate feelings in a virtual fashion," Gabbay said. However, she said that dedicated sites for the bereaved tend to protect them from the stinging comments of critical outsiders in more open forums like Reddit. "Typically, grieving people tend to be kind to each other because they know what it feels like to be hurting."

Whiteman's posting illustrates how the Internet has made grieving a much more public ritual, Laderman said. "There's a whole plethora of online grieving support networks and memorialization pages that are very much focused on people struggling with grief. The online virtual world has really become important."

Cyberposts can provide comfort to the grief-stricken, which is "why we're seeing more of the kinds of sites or posts where people are putting their little testimonial or memorial," Laderman said. "This is part and parcel of larger trends around death and dying in our culture that are breaking it out from purely religious institutions and authority and from the controlling hand of the funeral industry."

Ultimately, Gabbay said, online forums and discussion boards can provide healing and comfort, but virtual interactions "cannot replace face-to-face support. The Internet can't give you a hug."

Some online sites and interactive forums dedicated to grieving and loss:

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Is Facebook Bad for Kids?

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- Millions of kids are actively using Facebook -- some even in violation of the social network's rule that members be 13 years of age -- according to Consumer Reports, but one expert says that all this new technology can have some pluses.

Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University, recently did a presentation for the American Psychological Association titled "Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids."

He told ABC News that Facebook provided "really wonderful opportunities" for children to grow, develop and learn life.

"The more time that kids are on Facebook doing Facebook updates [and] posting photos the more they're able to show empathy or understanding or sharing feelings with someone else online," Rosen said. "Even better yet that seems to be predicting that they get better doing it in the real world too."

He said his research had identified some problems, however.

"Kids who spent more time on Facebook tended to show more signs of narcissism," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Porn Addicts Find Treatment Online

Comstock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Porn is a powerful draw, for some an overpowering attraction. It has also always been a big money maker, and now, a British-based company,, has launched a for-pay porn addiction hot line.

The 24-hour counseling website was launched as a way to treat porn addicts through an anonymous, Internet-based self-help regimen program. The site's creators hope it will contribute to the recovery of millions of porn addicts around the cybersphere, and some experts say it could act as a good model for porn addiction counseling in the U.S.

"It's obvious to us that Internet-based addiction has become increasingly prevalent over the years," said Faye Blackwell, one of the site's three resident counseling experts. "This addiction carries extra baggage. People are embarrassed and guilt-ridden, and there aren't many places that they can go to talk about it."

Since the site launched eight weeks ago, Blackwell said there have been an "enormous amount of people" who have inquired about the site. In the past week, she estimated that 200 to 300 people have shown interest in joining the program.

Blackwell and colleagues wanted to make the program easy and accessible. After logging on to the site and paying the program fee, members receive a 5-step therapy packet, along with downloadable audio files and access to a secure online forum community. More expensive program packages include "accountability software," which allows therapists to monitor the members' porn use, and telephone counseling sessions with one of the site's addiction counselors. Treatment packages range from $145 to $565 depending on the services purchased.

Terry Gatewood, an addiction specialist at the Sexual Recovery Institute, said that the online site covers several important steps a porn addict must face, including education about the addiction and necessary changes and ultimate ways of moving past the disease.

"There is a grieving process that comes with overcoming addiction," said Gatewood. "It's going to be painful and depressing. It's like a best friend who has been holding the deepest secrets, and now they have to get through life without that best friend."

Porn addiction is much like any other addiction; here, X-rated material is used as a means to escape the stresses of daily life. While experts say there is no definitive moment that indicates an addiction to pornography, excessive use that interferes with daily life and relationships is often sign of an addiction. And, just like drugs, if a person needs more and more to get the desired high, this can also be a sign of a growing addiction.

The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health estimates that 3 to 5 percent of the U.S. population suffers from some sort of sexual compulsion disorder.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Does Your Sex Life Measure Up?

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- A new survey commissioned by the condom manufacturer Trojan claims the average American adult has sex 120 times a year.

The survey also found that Americans in the Northeast engage in sex most often, while residents in the South have sex the least often.

Additional findings from Trojan:

  • 71 percent of men say they want more sex, compared with 55 percent of women.
  • 19 percent of Americans have engaged in sexting.
  • 18 percent of Americans have had sex with someone they met online.
  • 10 percent of respondents have chatted with others about sex on Facebook, Twitter, or both.
  • Men are more likely to discuss their sex lives online than women, 15 percent to 6 percent, respectively.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Free Online Program Offers Help for Children's Sleep Problems

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Parents have a lot on their minds when it comes to their infants and toddlers, and one of the most common worries is their children's sleeping habits.

About 25 percent of parents believe their child has a sleep disturbance, typically difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep through the night.

Now, there's a new tool that can help put parents at ease.  It's called the Customized Sleep Profile -- a free online program that asks parents of children under the age of three a series of questions about their child's sleep.  Based on the answers, the tool offers comparisons to other children of the same age, categorizes the child as a "good," "excellent" or "disrupted" sleeper, and provides recommendations for helping the child sleep better.

"We wanted to be able to provide families with an easily accessible, free tool they could use to get customized recommendations," said Jodi Mindell, one of the developers of the tool and a professor of psychology at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.  "Most of the information available in print or online doesn't say specifically what you should do for your child."

The recommendations, she said, are based on a wide body of sleep research.

Mindell is also lead author of a study assessing the effectiveness of the online tool.  In the lastest issue of the journal Sleep, Mindell and her fellow researchers found that mothers who used the program and followed the recommendations reported their children slept much better in the two weeks after trying the customized profile.  The majority of mothers said they would continue to use the recommendations after the study period.

"Mothers ... also slept better and had less tension, depression, fatigue and confusion," the authors wrote.

Johnson & Johnson provides the Customized Sleep Profile, but Mindell says it had no involvement in its development or the study, and offered no compensation to the authors.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


HealCam: Chatroulette-Like Site Pairs Patients for Web Chats

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(HALF MOON BAY, Calif.) -- Many patients who suffer from diseases or medical complications comb through medical websites and forums searching for people share their pain, seeking advice and support.

But a website called HealCam gives patients a new approach to sharing their stories with others in  the online community.

Much like Chatroulette, the website connects people visually at random using their webcams.  Once connected, patients can share their stories, give advice and ask questions to one another face-to-face.

Dr. Michael Ostrovsky, a 41-year-old anaesthesiologist from Half Moon Bay, California, said he and his brother, Gene, started the website last June after learning about ChatRoulette.

"I think people want to talk to each other for a variety of reasons," Ostrovsky said.  "People want to meet people with the same diseases and share experiences."

The brothers already run MedGadget, "an Internet journal for medical technologies," and say they know of other websites that let patients share information with the crowds.  But he said they saw the potential for a site that let people share advice and experiences with one person at a time.

"I think it's good for the health-related community and patient-to-patient communication because it provides anonymity, and anonymity is important," Ostrovsky said.

Visitors to the site use a webcam to communicate with others, but they don't need to share their real names or other identifying personal information.

After signing on, patients simply select one of more than a dozen health topics they'd like to discuss -- from bones and joints to cancer to the immune system -- and then the site searches for another user who wants to talk about the same thing.  Users can also indicate their gender, as well the gender of their ideal conversation partner.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FTC Asked to Investigate Faulty Online Health Marketing

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(WASHINGTON) – The Federal Trade Commission has been called on to investigate potentially illegal marketing practices that target a growing number of Americans seeking medical information and treatment online.

In a complaint filed with the FTC, the Center for Digital Democracy, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog and the World Privacy Forum called on the commission to protect consumers from insecurely providing personal data when looking for health information and services on the Internet.

The filing has asked that the FDA, which has been pressured to expand the rights of health marketers online, await a study and report from the FTC before taking any action.

At issue are the types of online targeting techniques and methods used by advertisers and what type of personal data is being collected through those methods.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


AARP, Consumer Reports Health Launch Online Prescription Drug Comparison Tool

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- AARP and Consumer Reports Health teamed up Tuesday for the launch of a new online tool for drug comparison.  The AARP Drug Savings Tool, meant to ease the prescription drug decision-making process, allows users to compare the effectiveness, price and safety of drugs listed in the Consumer Reports Health database of about 500 drugs in 26 different drug classes.

“We know that consumers want trustworthy, independent information on prescription drugs so they can make informed decisions about what is best for their health and the health of their family,” said Cheryl Matheis, AARP senior vice president for health strategy. “This tool will be especially valuable to our membership and will help all users better manage their prescriptions.”

The site also provides users with online guides to facilitate conversation with their health care providers related to various prescription drug topics.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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