Buying Medication Online

Health Writer

The internet has changed how many people shop for medications. Ordering prescriptions online can be convenient, easy and private. Medications can be delivered right to your door, helping those that may live in rural areas, those that have a physical or emotional disability and have a difficult time leaving the house or those that simply want the convenience of shopping from home.

Although there are many reputable online pharmacies, there are also many operating illegally. Purchasing medications through this type of pharmacy might be dangerous to your health. Some of the dangers include medications that:

  • Are too weak or too strong
  • Have expired
  • Are copycat or fake
  • Have not been approved by the FDA
  • Are made with unsafe practices
  • Have not been properly stored
  • Have extra ingredients that can be harmful

There are a number of ways you can help to protect yourself when purchasing your medication online:

Check with VIPPS

The Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site can help you to verify if a pharmacy is operating legally. The National Association Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) provides a searchable database of pharmacies that comply with licensing and inspection standards and requirements.

Many pharmacies will have the VIPPS seal on their website. Look for this or search the directory before purchasing medication.

You can also check with your state board of pharmacy. The NABP website provides a list of state boards of pharmacy.)

Make Sure a Phone Number is Listed on the Website

Reputable pharmacies will provide a phone number for you to speak with a pharmacist. If there is no phone number available. There should be a licensed pharmacist available to answer all of your questions. You should also be able to speak to someone if you have a problem or question about your order.

Make Sure the Pharmacy is Located in the United States

It is illegal to purchase medication from other countries. Check out where the pharmacy is located and be sure it is within the U.S.

Don't Buy From Pharmacies That Don't Require a Prescription

If a pharmacy is willing to sell you medication without having a prescription from your doctor, don't buy it. It is illegal to sell prescription medication without a written prescription (for certain classes of medication only a written prescription is allowed) or having your doctor call the pharmacy.

Check Privacy Policies

You can and should ask about the website's privacy policies. Be sure your personal information will be kept confidential, that your information will not be sold and payment methods used on the website are secure.

Report Web Sites

If you experience problems, have complaints or are unsure about the safety of medication you have received from an online pharmacy, report your experience to the Federal Food and Drug Administration. You can call 1-800-332-1088 to report an online pharmacy.

Be Wary of Dramatically Lower Prices

Although you can comparison shop for prices on the internet, be careful if a website offers you medication for prices that are dramatically lower than the competition. Prices may vary but should not be extreme in their differences.

Bring the Medication to Your Doctor Before Using It

If you are using a pharmacy online that you do not have experience with, visit your doctor before taking the medication the first time. He or she can help you determine if it is the correct medication.

By following some common sense guidelines, you can safely take advantage of the ease and convenience of purchasing medication online.


"Buying Drugs Online", FDA Office of Women's Health

"The Possible Dangers of Buying Medicines Over the Internet", 2009, Feb 27, Federal Food and Drug Administration