It's lights-out time for another Web-based pharmacy. PlanetRx has stopped filling orders and is selling off its Web site names and other assets. It's recommending its customers switch to drugstore.com, the online version of Rite Aid.
Not too long ago, PlanetRx looked like trouble for bricks-and-mortar pharmacies. Its stock price hit a peak of $292 about 18 months ago. But by January, just before the stock was delisted from the NASDAQ, it had sunk to 35 cents.
Does this mean consumers should avoid online pharmacies? In theory, there's no reason online prescription service can't work. For decades, AARP has mailed prescriptions to its members around the country, using fax and 800 numbers long before the Web became popular.
For now, the best strategy is probably to stick with sites that are affiliated with a bricks-and-mortar company. CVS/pharmacies' cvs.com offers lower drug prices online, with discounts up to 20 percent. There's no shipping charge and most shipments arrive in two to three days.
Rite Aid's drugstore.com also offers lower prices online than at its stores. You can place your order online and pick it up at a neighborhood store.
To be avoided at all costs are the online pharmacies that offer "online examinations" and prescriptions. Many of these establishments are fraudulent and consumers have little recourse if their credit card information is misappropriated or their orders are not filled. Further, few of these operations accept insurance payments and consumers are thus hit with the full price of the drug.