Tips For Safely Buying Medications Online
Buying your medications online can be very convenient, but there are some risks involved.
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:
- Fake, unapproved, outdated, or substandard drugs
- No quality control standards for preparation and packaging
- Getting the wrong medicine
- Medications that are harmful for you
- Ordering medication, paying for it, and not receiving the drugs
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers the following tips for making your online medication purchases safe and rewarding:
Get a Prescription First
Only buy prescription medicines online if your doctor has already diagnosed your condition and prescribed the medication. Taking prescription medications without the advice of your doctor and pharmacist puts you at risk for adverse reactions and dangerous drug interactions. When prescribing a medication, your doctor considers your overall health, other medications 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 medications 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 approved by the FDA
- Tell you what organization you are dealing with
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).
Beware of Unreasonable Claims
Don't buy a drug from a site that makes outrageous claims about "amazing results," "a new cure," or a "cure all." Reputable organizations don't try to convince you that a certain drug is for you. If you need the drug, your doctor will give you a prescription. It sounds cliche, but if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Buy Only From US-Based Sites
Companies outside of the United States 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 can do little to help you if you get ripped off. Drug purchases from Canada have been highly controversial. Price differences are greatly influenced by the US/Canadian exchange rate and will likely diminish as the two currencies become more closely matched. There has been little difference in generic drug costs between the two countries, and in fact Canadian generics are sometimes more costly than their US equivalents. Brand name drugs may sometimes be less expensive when purchased from Canada. A 2003 article in the New England Journal of Medicine said that there was little evidence of harm to American consumers from Canadian drug purchases, but it suggested that with increasing interest in cross-border pharmacy the risk of fraudulent transactions might be expected to increase. While technically illegal in many states and by Federal law, Canadian drug purchases are common but of uncertain risk (or financial benefit).
Don't Buy Drugs That Are Not FDA-Approved
The FDA ensures the safety and efficacy of medications in the United States. 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.
Report Problems to the FDA
If you suspect that a site selling medications is not a licensed pharmacy, report it to the FDA.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
National Association of Boards of Pharmacy
Canadian Pharmacists Association
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Available at: http://www.fda.gov.
Last reviewed May 2008 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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