Large drugstore chains, smaller local pharmacies, and other lawful organizations sell drugs online. In this situation, the benefits of buying drugs online are clear:
- Convenience, especially for people who are not able to get to the pharmacy easily or within business hours
- Saving time
- Saving money
Because you cannot necessarily go to 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- Receiving fake, unapproved, outdated, substandard, or harmful drugs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 medication
- Not receiving the medication after paying for it
- Not having the correct label information
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers the following tips for making your online medication purchases safe and rewarding.
The Importance of Getting a Prescription
Only buy prescription medications online if your doctor has already diagnosed your condition and prescribed the medication. Taking prescription medications without the advice of your doctor puts you at risk for improper treatment, adverse reactions, and dangerous drug interactions. When prescribing a medication, your doctor considers a number of factors, including:
- Your overall health
- Your age
- Conditions that you have
- Other medications or supplements that you are taking
- Your lifestyle habits, such as drinking alcohol or 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 medications 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 medications 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 medication, 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 have a reaction or get ripped off.
Only Buy Drugs That Are FDA-Approved
The FDA ensures the safety and efficacy of medications in the US. You take a risk with your health when you buy a drug that is not approved by the FDA.
Online medication 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. In many states, drug stores are required to dispense generic drugs, which can save you money.
Report Problems to the FDA
If you suspect that a site selling medications is not a licensed pharmacy, report it to the FDA.
National Association of Boards of Pharmacy
US Food and Drug Administration
Canadian Pharmacists Association
How to buy medicines safely from an online pharmacy. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm048396.htm. Updated January 25, 2018. Accessed January 29, 2018.
Quick tips for buying medicines over the internet. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/BuyingMedicinesOvertheInternet/default.htm. Updated December 30, 2016. Accessed January 29, 2018.
Last reviewed January 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 1/6/2016