Online Pharmacies


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Is it safe to buy medicines online?

It can be safe to buy your medicines online, but you need to be very careful. Many people use the Internet to compare prices and purchase medicines. It can be a good way to save time and money. However, not all sites provide safe, high-quality medicines.

What are the risks of purchasing medicines online?

Some websites sell medicines illegally or sell medicines that are not safe. The medicines you receive from these websites may:

  • Be fake
  • Contain too much or not enough of the active ingredient
  • Contain other, dangerous ingredients
  • Be expired, meaning they are too old to work properly in your body
  • Not be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning they aren’t known to be safe or effective
  • Not have been labeled, stored, or shipped properly
  • Not be safe to use with other medicines you take

If you take a medicine that isn’t safe, it might not treat your health problem. The medicine might even cause new or more serious health problems.

Illegal online pharmacies might not be licensed; might send you medicines without a prescription from your doctor (this is illegal); and might not keep your personal information, such as social security number and credit card information, private.

How do I know whether an online pharmacy is safe?

Before you purchase from an online pharmacy, research the company. A safe online pharmacy will meet all of the following conditions:

  • Located in the United States
  • Licensed in the United States. The pharmacy will be licensed by the state in which it is located. You can find state licensing boards through the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).
  • Has a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions
  • Requires you to provide a prescription from your doctor before you are able to purchase a prescription medicine
  • Provides a way for you to contact the company and allows you to talk to someone if you have problems or questions

When you visit a website, also look for the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) seal. If you see this seal somewhere on the website, it means that the pharmacy has been reviewed and approved by the NABP, and is likely safe.

How do I protect my privacy when ordering medicines online?

The easiest way to protect your privacy is to buy medicines from a safe, reputable online pharmacy that meets all of the conditions listed above. In addition:

  • Look for the website’s privacy and security policies. These should be easy to find and understand.
  • Don’t give any personal information (your social security number, credit card information, or medical history) unless you are sure the site is safe.
  • Make sure that the website will not sell your personal information, unless you agree to it.
  • If you identify an unsafe online pharmacy or if you have complaints against an online pharmacy, report the site to the FDA

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Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Created: 04/12

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