Large drugstore chains, smaller "mom and pop" pharmacies, and other lawful organizations sell drugs online. In this situation, the benefits of buying drugs online are clear:
- Saving time
- Saving money (in some cases)
- Convenience, especially for people who are not able to get to the pharmacy easily
Because you cannot necessarily locate the company you buy from, disreputable companies can take advantage of online consumers. The risks in this situation include:
- Receiving fake, unapproved, outdated, substandard, or harmful drugs
- Ordering from a company that does not have quality control standards for preparation and packaging
- Getting the wrong medicine
- Not receiving the medicine after paying for it
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers the following tips for making your online medicine purchases safe and rewarding.
The Importance of Getting a Prescription
Only buy prescription medicines online if your doctor has already diagnosed your condition and prescribed the medicine. Taking prescription medicines without the advice of your doctor puts you at risk for adverse reactions and dangerous drug interactions. When prescribing a medicine, your doctor considers a number of factors, including:
- Your overall health
- Your age
- Conditions that you have
- Other medicines or supplements that you are taking
- Your lifestyle habits (eg, drinking alcohol, smoking)
All of these factors can influence how a drug will affect you.
The Importance of Buying from a Reputable Site
Reputable sites that sell medicines are those that:
- Require a prescription from a licensed US healthcare provider
- Are a licensed pharmacy in good standing in the US
- Have a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions
- Sell only drugs that are FDA-approved
- Have clear policies to protect your privacy
Websites that sell medicines online without a prescription are not reputable. This includes sites that ask you to fill out a questionnaire in lieu of a prescription. Such a questionnaire is not a substitute for careful evaluation by your doctor.
You can check with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) to find out if a site meets state and federal requirements. Some sites even display the NABP seal of approval for Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS).
More Ways to Be Smart Online
Beware of Unreasonable Claims
Do not buy a drug from a site that makes outrageous claims about "amazing results," "a new cure," or a "cure all." It sounds cliché, but if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you think that you need a certain medicine, talk to your doctor first.
Buy Only From US-Based Sites
Companies outside of the US are not regulated in the same way that US companies are. Although it may be a reputable company, you have no way of confirming that. Within the US, companies that sell drugs online can obtain a seal of approval from the NABP. You can also contact the NABP to check on a particular site. In addition, generally it is illegal to import the drugs you buy from a foreign site, and the US government may not be able to help you if you get ripped off.
Only Buy Drugs That Are FDA-Approved
The FDA ensures the safety and efficacy of medicines in the US. You take a risk with your health when you buy a drug that is not approved by the FDA.
Online medicine prices are not always better than prices in a regular drugstore. Call your local pharmacy and ask how much the drug costs and compare that to the online price. Also, make sure that the pharmacy is covered by your health insurance plan.
Report Problems to the FDA
If you suspect that a site selling medicines is not a licensed pharmacy, report it to the FDA.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 05/2012 -
- Update Date: 05/31/2012 -