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Before You Buy Drugs Online


Updated May 09, 2013

Choosing to buy drugs online can be beneficial to patients in several ways:

  • It provides privacy.
  • Prices may be lower.
  • Rural and elderly patients can avoid traveling to a store.
  • It is easy to provide consumers with written drug information.
  • Using computers to transmit prescriptions to pharmacies may reduce errors.

Before you buy drugs online, however, you should be aware of the risks if you buy from illegal pharmacies. Quite simply, you have no guarantee of what you will receive or whether it's the right medication for you. The following tips can help you recognize whether a pharmacy is legal and safe.

Don't Be Fooled by Appearances

Don't judge a site by how professional it looks. These days, it's very easy for anyone to put together a professional-looking website.

Look for Contact Information

Reputable pharmacies will provide contact information so that you can speak with a licensed pharmacist if you have any problems or questions.

Make Sure They Ask for a Prescription

An ethical, law-abiding pharmacy will not dispense medications without a prescription. Taking medications not prescribed for you can be dangerous since the drug may not be appropriate for your condition. Even if you have been prescribed the drug previously, your condition may have changed since your last doctor visit.

Don't Use Pharmacies Who Offer to Write You a Prescription

Many websites will offer to have a staff physician write you a prescription after you fill out a questionnaire. This practice is unethical and dangerous. A questionnaire cannot provide a doctor with enough information to evaluate your condition or determine whether this particular drug is right for you.

Avoid Deals that Sound Too Good to Be True

Does the site promise rock bottom prices or offer to sell you drugs without a prescription? While these offers are very tempting, they are also a clear sign that you should not deal with this site. They are not following the law or looking out for your best interests.

Buy Only from Licensed U.S. Pharmacies

Because the Food and Drug Administration can only protect you if you buy drugs from U.S. pharmacies, it is wise to avoid buying from pharmacies outside the United States. The fact that the website is written in English is no guarantee that the drugs are actually coming from inside the country, so verify their licensing with your state board of pharmacy if you are in doubt. A list of state boards of pharmacy can be found on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) website.

Look for the VIPPS Seal

The NABP has a program that allows pharmacies who are meeting state and federal regulations to display a seal on their website. You can find more information about the program and pharmacies who display the VIPPS seal at http://www.vipps.info/.


"Buying Medicines and Medical Products Online." U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed: May 29, 2008.

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