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Reporting a Medication Error

Purchasing Medicines on the Internet

Published March 28, 2024

Is ordering medicines online safe for you and your family? Today, you can order just about anything online and have it delivered to your doorstep. The internet makes it easy to shop around for the lowest priced item. So, searching for low cost medicines online is no exception. However, there are some dangers with purchasing medicines online. For example, internet pharmacy sites that say, “no prescription needed,” should not be used.

Also, some medicines sold online:

  • Are fake
  • Have ingredients that could hurt you
  • Are too strong or too weak
  • Are too old to work
  • Are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Are not made using safety standards
  • Are not safe to use with other medicines, herbal products, or vitamins you use
  • Are not labeled or are labeled incorrectly
  • Are not stored or shipped the right way

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) in the United States provides accreditation to online pharmacies that meet certain criteria. This three-year accreditation is given to pharmacies that have a website offering at least one digital pharmacy practice (e.g., new prescription orders, refills, transfers, counseling/medication therapy management [MTM], patient/prescriber portals, and pharmacy care services). This accreditation ensures the online pharmacy is committed to providing quality healthcare and safe pharmacy services to customers via the internet. If an online pharmacy has received this NABP Digital Pharmacy Accreditation status, their website(s) will have a “.pharmacy” domain web address. To find out if an online pharmacy is accredited by NABP, vis the Accredited Digital Pharmacies webpage.

Before ordering any medicine online, be sure you understand the following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What are the risks of purchasing from a non-accredited or fake online pharmacy?

  • Buying prescription medicine from a non-accredited or fake online pharmacies can be dangerous, or even deadly. Counterfeit medicines are fakes of approved drugs and should be considered unsafe and ineffective.
  • Most non-accredited or fake online pharmacies may put your personal and financial information at risk. These sites may infect your computer with viruses, and they may sell your information to other illegal websites.

What are some of the warning signs of a fake online pharmacy? Avoid online pharmacies that:

  • Allow you to buy drugs without a prescription or without completing an online questionnaire
  • Offer discounts or cheap prices that seem too good to be true
  • Send unsolicited email or other spam messages offering cheap prices for medicines
  • Ship prescription drugs worldwide
  • State that the medicines 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)

What are some tips to identify safe online pharmacies? To identify a safe online pharmacy, make sure that the online pharmacy:

  • Requires a valid prescription
  • Provides a physical address that is located in the United States
  • Is licensed by the State Board of Pharmacy in the state where the pharmacy is located
  • Has a state-licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions

Is it okay to buy prescription medicine online from other countries?

  • Since the FDA does not have authority over prescription medicines from other countries, FDA cannot guarantee the safety or effectiveness of those medicines. Medicines approved in other countries may have slight variations, or different ingredients, which could cause you to develop a resistance to your medicine or not work to treat your condition.
  • No, it may not be obvious that an online pharmacy is fake. Many illegal online pharmacies use fake “storefronts” to make you think they are real pharmacies. Fraudulent sellers run fake online pharmacy scams to exploit consumers by pretending to be legitimate pharmacies offering prescription medicines.

Why are consumers increasingly turning to online pharmacies for their medicines?

  • The internet provides consumers with instant access to information and services, including online pharmacies for prescription medicines. Health insurance plans are encouraging home delivery of medicines that need to be taken for a long time to treat chronic conditions making online pharmacy services a good option to purchase these medicines.
  • As the cost of prescription medicines continues to increase, 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. For those consumers that may be considering purchasing from online sources that are not associated with health insurance plans or a local pharmacy, it is important to know the risks of buying from fake online pharmacies.

Here's what you can do: Before you place an order from an online pharmacy, make sure the pharmacy you are using is certified by the NABP Digital Pharmacy Accreditation. Look for the “.pharmacy” in the website’s address domain. You can also access NABP's Accredited Digital Pharmacy website to search for an NABP-accredited digital pharmacy to meet your needs. Lastly, if you believe an online pharmacy is operating suspiciously, please report it to NABP by completing and submitting the “Report a Site” online form. To summarize, in addition to checking NABP to determine if an online pharmacy is in good standing:

  • Do NOT buy from sites offering to prescribe a medicine for the first time without a physical exam, sell a prescription drug without a prescription, or sell drugs NOT approved by the FDA.
  • Do NOT buy from sites that do NOT provide access to a registered pharmacist to answer questions.
  • Avoid sites that do NOT clearly provide their identity and do NOT provide a US address and phone number to contact them if there is a problem.
  • Be cautious of sites advertising a “new cure” for a serious or chronic disorder, or a quick “cure-all” for a wide range of diseases.
  • Be cautious of sites using impressive-sounding terminology as these tactics are used to disguise the lack of good science behind these products.
  • Avoid sites that include undocumented case histories claiming “amazing” or “life-changing” results.
  • ALWAYS talk to your healthcare professional (e.g., doctor, local pharmacist) before using any medicine for the first time.

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