Have you ever been tempted to buy your medicines from an online pharmacy or another website?
You can protect yourself and your family by being cautious when buying medicine online. Some pharmacy websites operate legally and offer convenience, privacy, cost savings and safeguards for purchasing medicines.
Not all websites are the same. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that there are many unsafe online pharmacies that claim to sell prescription drugs at deeply discounted prices, often without requiring a prescription. These internet-based pharmacies often sell unapproved, counterfeit or otherwise unsafe medicines outside the safeguards followed by licensed pharmacies.
Many unsafe online pharmacies use fake “storefronts” to mimic licensed pharmacies or to make you think their medicines come from countries with high safety standards. But the medicines they sell could have been made anywhere, with little care or concern for safety and effectiveness. Also, these drugs could be fake, expired or otherwise unsafe for you and your family.
How can you tell if an online pharmacy is operating legally? The FDA’s BeSafeRx page has resources and tools to help you make safer and more informed decisions when buying prescription medicines online.
Warning Signs of an Unsafe Online Pharmacy
Beware of online pharmacies that:
- Do not require a doctor’s prescription.
- Are not licensed in the U.S. and by your state board of pharmacy.
- Do not have a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer your questions.
- Send medicine that looks different than what you receive at your usual pharmacy, or arrives in packaging that is broken, damaged, in a foreign language, has no expiration date, or is expired.
- Offer deep discounts or prices that seem too good to be true.
- Charge you for products you never ordered or received.
- Do not provide clear written protections of your personal and financial information.
- Sell your information to other websites.
These pharmacies often sell medicines that can be dangerous because they may:
- Have too much or too little of the active ingredient you need to treat your disease or condition.
- Not contain the right active ingredient.
- Contain the wrong ingredients or other harmful substances.
The active ingredient of an approved drug product is what makes the medicine effective for the illness or condition it is intended to treat. If a medicine has unknown active ingredients, it could fail to have the intended effect, could have an unexpected interaction with other medicines you are taking, could cause dangerous side effects, or could cause other serious health problems, such as serious allergic reactions.
Also, these drugs may not have been stored properly, such as in a warehouse without necessary temperature controls, which may cause the medicine to be ineffective in treating your condition.
Know the Signs of a Safe Online Pharmacy
There are ways you can identify a safe online pharmacy. These pharmacies:
- Always require a doctor’s prescription.
- Provide a physical address and telephone number in the U.S.
- Have a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer your questions.
- Are licensed with a state board of pharmacy.
Another way to help ensure you are using a safe and legal online pharmacy is to check the pharmacy’s license in the state’s board of pharmacy license database by using the location tool on the FDA’s BeSafeRx website. If your online pharmacy is not listed, don’t use that pharmacy.
Resources to Shop Safely Online
- Learn more about the risks of buying prescription medicine from unsafe online pharmacies.
- Report sales of medicine on the internet by unsafe online pharmacies to the FDA.
- Report adverse effects caused by any medicine to the FDA’s MedWatch program.
- Visit the FDA’s web page on counterfeit medicine for more information.