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Black Market Fertility Drugs
The emotional and physical stress associated with fertility treatments is overwhelming, and the financial burden can be just as difficult to deal with. Many health insurance plans offer limited coverage (if any) for fertility treatments, including medications — the price of which can be very high. As a result many women feel desperate. Some resort to buying fertility drugs from other patients who have “leftover” medications from previous cycles and offer them cheaply. These “deals” are made online or by word-of-mouth. However, not only is this practice illegal, it has risks.
It doesn't take long surfing online fertility message boards and chat rooms to find postings for fertility drugs for sale and references to websites where fertility drugs are bought and sold by patients. Reputable websites with message boards or chat rooms clearly state in their guidelines that federal restrictions strictly prohibit the sale or exchange of medications online and that posting messages engaging in this activity is forbidden. Many even have moderators who remove such posts. But it seems that if you look hard enough you will find them.
On the surface it seems like a plausible solution. Patients who have spent lots of money on fertility drugs they no longer need and cannot return recoup some cash by selling leftover drugs, at a steep discount, to patients who cannot afford to pay full price.
But there is no guarantee that those leftover medications were stored properly and will work correctly. The drugs could be tampered with, and they could be contaminated. Medications may have expired or may not be what the sellers claim they are. If you have a failed cycle after using drugs purchased from another patient, you may always wonder if there was a problem with the drugs. The FDA has warned consumers that they have no assurance that the drug is what it is. It could be watered down or even counterfeit. They say buyers should beware.
Gonadotropins, the most expensive fertility drugs, stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs so that the likelihood of pregnancy is increased with an IUI or IVF procedure. Each of these drugs has specific instructions for storage and shipping. Some need to be refrigerated and are shipped with a cold pack, and most should not be exposed to extremes of temperature. Pharmacies are required to record lot numbers and expiration dates of medications that they receive and dispense. Drugs are stored and shipped according to the manufacturer's directions to assure quality control. But pharmacists have no control over medication storage once the patient gets them home. That is why pharmacies are not allowed to accept returned medications from patients or re-dispense them.
Many women are aware of the dangers of buying leftover medications, but make the purchases anyway. They are willing to take the risk because they otherwise couldn’t afford them. Experts say that cash strapped patients should shop around. Options include specialty fertility pharmacies and online pharmacies. For additional information, read this “Dollars and Sense” column.