1. What are the potential risks of purchasing from an online pharmacy?
Some websites appear to be pharmacies but sell medicines that can be dangerous, or even deadly. Consumers who buy medicine from an unsafe website may be putting their health at risk. The products sold, while being passed off as authentic, may contain the wrong ingredients, contain too little, too much, or no active ingredient at all, or contain other harmful ingredients. These medicines may have unexpected side effects or cause serious harm.
In addition to health risks, purchasing medicine online from unsafe websites may put your personal and financial information at risk. Some unsafe online pharmacies intentionally misuse the information you provide. These sites may infect your computer with viruses, and they may sell your personal information to other illegal websites and Internet scams.
2. Are online pharmacies safe?
At any given time, there are roughly 35,000 active online pharmacies, and according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, approximately five percent of those websites comply with U.S. pharmacy laws and practice standards.
While there are online pharmacies that operate legally and offer convenience, privacy and safeguards for purchasing medicines, there are many unsafe online pharmacies operating illegally. They sell medicines at deeply discounted prices, often without requiring a prescription or adhering to other safeguards followed by pharmacies licensed by a state in the United States. Unsafe online pharmacies are often run by criminal networks that knowingly and unlawfully sell potentially unsafe, ineffective or counterfeit drugs to consumers in the United States. These criminals frequently use sophisticated technologies and are backed by larger enterprises intent on profiting from illegal drugs at the expense of American patients. Consumers go to these websites believing they are buying safe and effective medications, but often they are being deceived and put at risk by individuals who put financial gain above patient safety.
3. What are some of the warning signs of an unsafe website that appears to be a pharmacy?
Beware of websites that:
- Allow you to buy medicine without a prescription from your doctor
- Offer discounts or cheap prices that seem too good to be true
- Send unsolicited mail, email or other spam offering cheap medicine
- State that the medicine will be shipped from a foreign country
- Are located outside of the United States
- Are not licensed by a state board of pharmacy in the United States (or equivalent state health authority)
4. What are some tips to identify safe online pharmacies?
Make sure that the online pharmacy:
- Requires a prescription from a licensed healthcare professional
- Provides a physical address in the United States
- Is licensed by the state board of pharmacy in your state and the state where the pharmacy is operating
- Has a state-licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions
5. Is it okay to buy prescription medicine online from other countries?
FDA does not have regulatory oversight of prescription medicine from outside the legitimate U.S. drug supply chain; therefore, FDA cannot guarantee the safety or effectiveness of those medications. Medicines approved in other countries may have different ingredients that may not provide the help you need with your health condition or could result in a misdiagnosis by your doctor. You could experience harmful interactions with other medicines you are taking, unexpected side effects, or other serious health consequences. Additionally, many unsafe pharmacies use fake “storefronts” to make consumers think the medicine comes from countries with equivalent safety standards, but the medicines could have been made anywhere, with little to no regard for safety and effectiveness.
6. Is it obvious which online pharmacies are safe, and which are not?
No. It may be difficult to spot an unsafe online pharmacy. Many unsafe online pharmacies use fake “storefronts” to make you think they are licensed pharmacies. These unsafe sellers run online pharmacy scams to exploit American consumers by pretending to be safe pharmacies offering FDA-approved or equivalent to FDA-approved prescription medicines for sale. However, the products they provide may be fake, expired or otherwise unsafe.
7. Why are consumers turning to online pharmacies for their medicines?
The internet provides consumers with instant access to information and services, including online pharmacies for prescription medicines. Consumers may look for cost savings from online pharmacies to afford their medicines. In addition, many consumers value the convenience and privacy of purchasing their medicines online. Consumers who may be considering purchasing from online sources that are not associated with health insurance plans or local pharmacies need to know the potential risks of buying medicine online.