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Infertility in the Age of the Internet

By Libby Baney, J.D.

I often wonder how women of previous generations dealt with infertility. Limited treatment options, fewer medicines, and no Internet. In this “Age of the Internet”, I can’t imagine having navigated my journey through the long, often dark, maze of infertility without the World Wide Web at my fingertips.

After more than a year of trying to conceive naturally, I got the news I’d feared – infertility due to hypothalamic pituitary dysfunction, otherwise known as HA. I knew nothing about HA initially but the Internet can be a wonderful thing. Within a day of diagnosis I had joined the RESOLVE Inspire infertility chat group and a community within Fertile Thoughts dedicated to HA. I was warmly embraced this virtual community and spent countless hours online reading hundreds of individual stories about infertility, HA, and treatment protocols.

I also found scary things – dangerous things – online. Thousands of websites offered to sell me prescription infertility “solutions” without a prescription. Back in the infertility chat rooms, I saw hundreds of posts from women searching the Internet for discount fertility treatments (injectable hormones, pills, gels, you name it). Like me, these women were desperate for solutions that would result in a baby and would do just about anything to have a family.

These so-called online “pharmacies” prey on vulnerable patients who are desperate enough to try anything for a cure. They offer deep discounts, free shipping, and sales without a prescription promising a remedy, or in my case, a chance for a family. Sound good too to be true? It is.

  • 97% of these so-called “pharmacy” sites operate illegally, out of compliance with laws put in place to protect patients.i
  • 50% of the medicines sold online are counterfeit.ii Counterfeit medicines have been found to contain arsenic, chalk, rat poison, boric acid and paint.iii Real medicines can rarely be distinguishable from the fakes – even by professionally trained eyes.
  • But even if you are in the lucky 50% and don’t get a fake, medicines – especially fertility medicines –often require special handling and/or cold-chain storage to remain effective.

So what should infertility patients do in the “Age of the Internet”? Are there any safe sources online?

The good news is that there are tools out there to help combat the counterfeit crisis and provide patients access to authentic medicines, both offline and online:

The Internet has expanded so rapidly over recent years – in both good and bad ways. I have no doubt that soon my one and a half year old son – yes, my infertility journey ended with a successful pregnancy after nearly three years – will be showing me things about the Internet that I can not even dream of today. But when he does, I’ll be sure to arm him with information and tools so he too will #BuySafeRx.

Libby Baney, J.D. is the Executive Director of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global), a nonprofit dedicated to protecting patient safety online. She also serves as Counsel at Faegre Baker Daniels, Senior Director at FaegreBD Consulting, and a volunteer on RESOLVE’s Public Policy Working Group.

Footnotes:

iNational Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s Internet Drug Outlet Report (various versions). See also www.LegitScript.com
iiWorld Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs275/en/
iiiPartnership for Safe Medicines .org http://www.safemedicines.org/consumer_resources.html

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