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A brace of studies released yesterday has raised concerns about the safety of buying drugs online.

Almost half of e-pharmacies fail to give adequate information about drugs and medicines, according to Aussie magazine Quality and Safety in Health Care.

It examined 104 Internet pharmacies , and diagnosed the failure of 41 sites to give any data about their products.

Less than a third of the e-pharmacies in 13 countries, including the US and UK, analysed had any information about diseases. And where data was available it was often inadequate, the survey found.

"Consumers cannot make an informed decision about purchasing a medicine using information provided by e-pharmacies because balanced information about the benefits and risks of taking medicines was largely not available or of poor quality," Dr Tracey Bessell, of Monash University in Victoria, Australia told Reuters.

Only three of the 27 online outlets that sold St John's Wort (which is sometimes used to treat mild depression) warned of the risks of taking the drug alongside treatments epilepsy, heart disease the contraceptive pill.

Online pharmacies are failing to uphold standards set by many Western governments, Bessell concludes.

A separate study by New York-based price comparison site found that half the online pharmacies it investigated were unlicensed.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cautioned that consumers using unlicensed online pharmacies may receive poor quality or incorrectly dispensed medications.

PharmacyChecker.com evaluates pharmacy sites based on five objective criteria: a verified pharmacy license, a Privacy policy which protects personal information (one third lack a policy); a verified postal address and phone number; secure online transactions (17 per cent are insecure); and a Requirement for an original prescription.

Among the twelve sites already evaluated under these criteria, only five passed PharmacyChecker.com's tests.

PharmacyChecker.com also maintains a continually updated, comparative database of drug prices from the pharmacy sites it evaluates. Among sites requiring a prescription, Canadian prices average 49 per cent lower than US prices for brand-name drugs.

US sites that fail to ask for a prescription (i.e. unlicensed sites) often charge more, PharmacyChecker.com found. Mexican sites, which typically don't require a prescription, generally charge the same as licensed US sites, the survey found.

Dr Tod Cooperman, president of PharmacyChecker.com said: "Americans are flocking to foreign online pharmacies to save money but often without knowledge of who these companies are, how they operate, and whether they offer the best prices."

"PharmacyChecker.com's information will help consumers avoid unnecessary risks and maximize their savings," he added.

Price comparisons on over 1,500 medications as well as pharmacy ratings and 40-item profiles are available at www.pharmacychecker.com on a subscription basis. Customer ratings of pharmacies will also be available shortly on PharmacyChecker.com's Web site. ®

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