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Buying Drugs Safely Online

Consumers have lots of choices for buying prescription drugs these days. But beware – counterfeit drugs are on the rise. You might throw your money away on ineffective drugs, or even worse, you could be harmed by taking drugs that aren’t what they pretend to be.

  • Don’t buy from an online seller that doesn’t require a prescription. It's against the law to sell prescription drugs to people who don’t have prescriptions for them. Reputable online drug sellers verify each prescription they receive before filling the order. Always talk to your doctor before taking any prescription drugs.
  • If you don’t already have a prescription, don’t deal with a Web site that will provide one based on an online questionnaire, without an in-person physical exam. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Medical Association, if you get a prescription without a physical exam, you could receive a drug that is inappropriate, or even dangerous because of a condition that you might not realize you have. Your doctor will also have a record of any other drugs you are taking and can make sure any new drug you take will not dangerously interact with the drugs you are already taking.
  • Don’t buy from a site that advertises “miracle drugs” for a new cure for a serious disease. These drugs are not usually approved by the FDA and could be dangerous or not effective. Other danger signs include claims for a “new cure” for a serious disease, or use of impressive sounding terminology to disguise a lack of good science.
  • Make sure a licensed pharmacist is available to answer your questions. Whether you’re buying prescription drugs online, through the mail, by telephone, or in person, reputable sellers should have pharmacists available to answer questions.
  • Beware of online pharmacies that don’t list an address or toll-free phone number to contact in case of a problem. They may be deliberately attempting to make it harder to track them down.
  • Avoid Web sites that only sell a limited number of medications, especially “lifestyle” medications that treat obesity, impotence, herpes, pain and acne. Such Websites are designed to attract consumers who have privacy concerns and wish to avoid an in-person doctor’s visit. The Websites are more likely to sell prescription drugs without legitimate prescriptions.
  • When you buy medications online, make sure the seller is properly licensed. Check with your state board of pharmacy or the National Association of Boards Pharmacy at www.nabp.net or call 847-391-4406. These sources can tell you if the online seller is licensed. You should check the state board of pharmacy where the online seller is located, and your own state board of pharmacy. Some sites display a seal, such as the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s VIPPS seal, as proof that the site has met state and federal requirements. Dealing with pharmacies that display the VIPPS seal, or other similar certification seals, gives you more confidence that they and the products they sell are legitimate. See a list of VIPPS-accredited pharmacies.
  • If you suspect you have bought a counterfeit drug online, report it. Notify the online drug seller. You should also report your suspicions about counterfeit drugs bought online to the FDA. Use the online reporting form or call the FDA’s Medwatch program at 1-800-332-1088. In addition, ask your doctor for medical advice if you believe you have taken a counterfeit drug.
  • If you believe an online drug seller is selling prescription drugs without a license, without prescriptions, or in violation of other laws, report it. Use the FDA's online reporting form or call the FDA’s Medwatch program at 1-800-332-1088. You should also report a suspicious site to your local state board of pharmacy, or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy using their Report a Suspicious Internet Pharmacy Site form.
  • Be a well-informed consumer. The FDA has tips about buying drugs online. There is also information from the FDA about counterfeit drugs.