image 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
  • Privacy

Because you cannot necessarily locate the company you buy from, disreputable companies can take advantage of online consumers. The risks in this situation include:

  • Fake, unapproved, outdated, or substandard drugs
  • No quality control standards for preparation and packaging
  • Getting the wrong medicine
  • Medicines that are harmful for you
  • Ordering medicine, paying for it, and not receiving the drugs

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers the following tips for making your online medicine purchases safe and rewarding.

Get a Prescription First

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 and pharmacist puts you at risk for adverse reactions and dangerous drug interactions. When prescribing a medicine, your doctor considers your overall health, other medicines or medical conditions, your age, and lifestyle habits (such as drinking alcohol and smoking)—all factors that may influence how a drug will affect you.

Buy Only From Reputable Sites

Reputable sites that sell medicines are those that:

  • Require a prescription
  • Are a licensed pharmacy in good standing in your state
  • Have a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions
  • Sell only drugs that are FDA-approved
  • Tell you what organization you are dealing with

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).

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 cliche, 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. Inside 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.

Check Prices

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.

Report Problems to the FDA

If you suspect that a site selling medicines is not a licensed pharmacy, report it to the FDA.