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Buying Online Drugs Safely

Topic Overview

Buying medicine over the Internet can make life a lot easier. Medicines on the Internet are sometimes cheaper. Your pills are delivered to your door.

Unfortunately, there are many dishonest online drugstores—and it can be hard to tell the honest ones from the dishonest ones. So you need to be very careful when you're buying medicines online.

How can you safely buy drugs online?

You can safely buy medicine online if you use online pharmacies recommended by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. This organization verifies Internet drugstores throughout the United States and most Canadian provinces.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has created a website at www.awarerx.org. You can visit this site to find out which online drugstores are recommended and which aren't.

It's also safe to buy medicine through your health insurance company's website.

Don't trust an online drugstore if:1

  • The website doesn't ask you for a prescription.
  • The drugstore isn't a licensed pharmacy. In the U.S. and Canada, pharmacies are licensed by individual state or provincial governments.
  • The online drugstore doesn't have a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions.
  • The website isn't "secure." This means that any information you type in—your address, your credit card number—could be read and used by anyone who comes across it. Secure websites use special tools to "encrypt" your information. They turn it into a code that other people can't read. You can tell that a website is secure if the URL (the Web address) begins with "https" rather than just "http."

Why should you worry about online drugs?

You could end up buying pills that hurt rather than help.

A research project by the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines found that more than half the drugs bought online as part of the project were either fake or were too strong or too weak.2

Criminals who sell drugs online have one goal: to make money. So they often focus on medicines that are in demand. Examples include:2

  • The erectile dysfunction drugs Cialis and Viagra.
  • The Alzheimer's disease drugs Aricept and Razadyne.
  • The schizophrenia drug Zyprexa.
  • The depression drug Effexor.
  • The heart drug Plavix.
  • The weight loss drug Reductil. This drug is no longer sold legally because it has been linked to heart attack and stroke.

Many fake drugs are expertly packaged. They look like the real thing, but they may have been made under very dirty conditions. And they may contain ingredients like chalk, sugar, and flour instead of the medicine you need. In the worst cases, a fake pill will contain drugs or chemicals that could harm you.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2010). Buying Prescription Medicine Online: A Consumer Safety Guide. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/ucm080588.htm.
  2. European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines (2008). The Counterfeiting Superhighway. Hampton Court, Surrey, England: Medicom Group. Also available online: http://www.eaasm.eu/Media_Centre/News/The_Counterfeiting_Superhighway.

Other Works Consulted

  • National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (2011). Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program: Progress Report for State and Federal Regulators. Available online: http://www.nabp.net/programs/assets/IDOI_Report_10-11.pdf.
  • World Health Organization (2010). Medicines: Spurious/falsely-labelled/falsified/counterfeit (SFFC) medicines (Fact Sheet No. 275). Available online: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs275/en.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Theresa O'Young, PharmD - Clinical Pharmacy
Last Revised May 14, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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