Is it safe to buy from an online pharmacy?

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It is, as long as you make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate pharmacy

With inflation eroding consumers’ purchasing power many people are looking for ways to save money anywhere they can. Some may be thinking about switching their prescription medications to an online pharmacy.

You can save money but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says you should approach online pharmacies with caution.

Not all websites that sell prescription drugs are the same. Over the years the FDA has identified some unsafe online pharmacies that claim to sell prescription drugs at deeply discounted prices, sometimes without even requiring a prescription. 

Investigations have shown that some of these internet-based pharmacies often sell unapproved, counterfeit or otherwise unsafe medicines outside the safeguards and standards followed by licensed pharmacies.

In some cases, an unsafe online pharmacy will set up fake “storefronts” to imitate licensed pharmacies. While many of these kinds of pharmacies are located outside the U.S., the FDA says they will go to great lengths to make you think their medicines come from countries with high safety standards. 

But the fact is, consumers may have no clue where the drugs are manufactured. They could have been made in countries where there is no regulation or oversight.

Red flags

The FDA has established this website to help consumers judge online pharmacies for quality and safety. Here are some red flags indicating the pharmacy you’re considering isn’t quite what it appears to be.

  • The pharmacy does not require a doctor’s prescription

  • The pharmacy is not licensed in the U.S. and by your state board of pharmacy

  • It does not have a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer your questions

  • It ships pills that look different than what you receive at your usual pharmacy, or the medicine arrives in packaging that is broken, damaged, in a foreign language, has no expiration date, or is expired

  • It offers deep discounts or prices that seem too good to be true

  • It charges you for products you never ordered or received

  • It does not provide clear written statements about how it protects your personal and financial information

  • It sells your information to other websites

What could go wrong?

The FDA says consumers should avoid these pharmacies for a number of reasons. They may have too much or too little of the drug’s active ingredient. They could even not have any of the right ingredients.

A legitimate online pharmacy always requires a doctor’s prescription to purchase prescription medication. The company should also list a physical address and telephone number in the U.S.

There should also be a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer your questions. And any legitimate online pharmacy should be licensed with a state board of pharmacy.

If you find a legitimate online pharmacy, you should be able to save money on your medication. Many of these online pharmacies are operated by major retailers, such as CVS, Costco, and Amazon.

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