They claim to be safe, low-cost alternatives to traditional pharmacies. But Internet drugstores and so-called facilitators—brick-and-mortar locations that place orders for consumers wary of ordering drugs online—are not created equal. And some of them readily acknowledge that.
"I cannot comment on the safeguards employed by any other organizations," said William Hepscher, owner of The Canadian Medstore in Tampa, Florida, in an e-mail to CNBC.
Hepscher claims his business ensures product safety by requiring the overseas pharmacies he orders from are licensed in their home country. Undercover, CNBC ordered brand name Lipitor from the company. The manufacturer, Pfizer, found the medication we purchased to be authentic and safe, but a version of the drug produced overseas and intended for sale outside the U.S.
"Ultimately our clients rely on the safeguards put in place by these governing authorities in the same way that they rely on the U.S. FDA," Hepscher said.
But the Food and Drug Administration takes a different view.
"The drugs you receive may look real, but they could be counterfeit, contaminated, expired or otherwise unsafe," the FDA says on a section of its website, devoted to online pharmacies.