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:
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers the following tips for making your online medication purchases safe and rewarding.
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 not treating your condition correctly, adverse reactions, and dangerous drug interactions. When prescribing a medication, your doctor considers a number of factors, including:
All of these factors can influence how a drug will affect you.
Reputable sites that sell medications are those that:
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).
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.
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.
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.
National Association of Boards of Pharmacy
US Food and Drug Administration
Canadian Pharmacists Association
Buying drugs safely online. National Consumers League Fraud website. Available at: http://www.fraud.org/learn/counterfeit-drugs/buying-drugs-safely-online. Accessed January 6, 2016.
Buying medicine online. National Association of Boards of Pharmacy website. Available at: http://www.nabp.net/programs/consumer-protection/buying-medicine-online. Accessed January 6, 2016.
Buying prescription medicine online: A consumer safety guide. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/ucm080588.htm. Updated June 12, 2015. Accessed January 6, 2016.
The possible dangers of buying medicines over the Internet. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm048396.htm. Updated January 15, 2014. Accessed March 11, 2014.
Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD