Cipro Online: The New Viagra?


As fears of contracting anthrax continue to spread, Internet sites offering Cipro, the antibiotic used to fight the deadly bacteria spores, are multiplying so fast that federal regulators are stepping in.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration is now investigating the sites offering Cipro, according to Tom McGinnis, the FDA's director of pharmacy affairs. McGinnis declined to comment further. The FDA's Web site cautions consumers about buying prescriptions from "questionable" sites, pointing out that the risks include getting contaminated or counterfeit drugs, the wrong medication, an incorrect dose, or nothing at all.

20 QUESTIONS. Cipro is a powerful antibiotic that requires a doctor's prescription. Yet a generic Web search by BusinessWeek Online turned up a slew of sites -- many of which don't carry the certification of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy -- offering the drug. Sites appear -- and disappear -- overnight. Says American Medical Assn. Chairman Dr. Timothy T. Flaherty: "It is very difficult to keep track of the Web sites, especially if [they're located] outside the country. We encountered the same problem when Viagra came on the market, and a lot of people wanted to get it without a prescription."

Some of these sites offer online "consultations" with doctors, which usually involves filling out an online questionnaire about your health. The FDA cautions that "getting a prescription drug by filling out a questionnaire without seeing a doctor poses serious health risks."

The biggest concern that Flaherty and others have about consumers obtaining Cipro -- online or elsewhere -- and taking it if they haven't been exposed to anthrax is that doing so will destroy all the "good" bacteria in a person's body that help with digestion and other routine functions. Medical researchers fear that strains of anthrax that are resistant to Cipro will multiply, rendering the antibiotic obsolete and putting other people who haven't taken it at risk.

As it is, Cipro must be taken twice a day for 60 days to adequately treat anthrax, and it's used only as an emergency procedure for people believed to have been exposed to the disease or diagnosed with early symptoms by a doctor.

GET IT IN WRITING. Board-certified pharmaceutical sites report no spike in Cipro sales, and representatives of consumer-protection and health-related companies also stress that the antibiotic shouldn't be taken without a doctor's examination and prescription. Like the FDA, they caution that a questionnaire doesn't provide sufficient information. Yet some uncertified Web sites boast headlines like "Be prepared with Cipro" and "Protect yourself in case of anthrax attack."

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy site provides a list of 12 online pharmacies that are board-certified. Some of them offer Cipro -- but only with a doctor's prescription. By Raluca Topliceanu in Washington


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