There are numerous benefits to buying prescription drugs online. If you are disabled, can’t leave your home, or simply can’t make it to the pharmacy in the midst of your busy schedule, delivery is convenient. Shopping online can also be discreet, and allow you to research and compare many more products in the comfort of your home.
While the benefits are legitimate, online shopping for prescription medication opens you up to many dangers. The online prescription medication industry is saturated with illegal websites. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) tracks online pharmacies and issues a monthly report on internet drug outlets. As of October 2016, the NABP has checked out more than 11,000 websites that sell prescription medications to people in the U.S. Almost all of them — 95.71 percent — were illegal.
Shopping online can be an easy, convenient, and cost-efficient way to make most purchases. Searching online for prescription drugs, however, can be extremely dangerous if you don’t know what to look for. Medicine from a site operating illegally could be counterfeit. It could be fake, expired, mislabeled, or the wrong dosage. Counterfeit medication could also include dangerous ingredients or may not have been stored or shipped properly.
If you aren’t extremely careful, you could accidentally purchase counterfeit or dangerous substances and land yourself in the hospital afterward. Fake prescription sites are also an easy way for scammers to steal your sensitive financial and health information.
To protect yourself, you should also avoid online pharmacies if you see any of these five signs:
The website doesn’t list a physical address and phone number
More than 62 percent of the sites that the NABP found were operating illegally didn’t have any physical location listed. Lack of a physical address or contact details is a red flag for many types of financial scams.
If the company doesn’t have a number listed, they likely don’t want you to be able to contact them. This could be very dangerous for you if you have an adverse reaction to the medication you receive. It will make it much more difficult to track down the culprit.
The company doesn’t have pharmacists on staff
Online pharmacies should operate very similarly to brick-and-mortar pharmacies, except that the process is online. At the very least, they should have a working pharmacist who you can contact in case of any problems with the prescribed medication. Illegal operations won’t usually have any contact details listed. They will sometimes give a number to a call center where you can receive customer service for your order and payment, but usually don’t have any pharmaceutical experts available.
They don’t require a prescription
Many people turn to online sources for prescription drugs that they find too expensive to obtain otherwise.
If the site doesn’t require you to submit a prescription or verify the prescription you give before allowing you to purchase medication, its operation is illegal.
The website doesn’t encrypt your information
Safety comes first, not only with the medication but also with your health and financial information. You may not think twice about sharing sensitive information like your Social Security number or birthdate when buying a prescription online, but you should.
If the site does not encrypt user information, it could be a scam or you could open yourself up to identity theft.
Check to see if the site is protected or encrypted before submitting any personal information. Most sites will display an icon of some sort, typically a padlock in the address bar before “https://” or they will be accredited by a reputable internet security source or — at least — give you some sort of notification.
The company isn’t based in the U.S.
If the company is not based in the U.S., the U.S. government may not be able to help you if you get ripped off, and there is little to no way to ensure they are safe or legitimate. The FDA doesn’t have any authority to regulate foreign versions of medication bought online and likely may not have even approved the drugs. There is also no guarantee that the drug was reviewed by any foreign regulatory agencies.
Although it is illegal to import drugs from other countries for any reason, many Americans have turned to importing or re-importing drugs from countries like Canada, which has low-cost versions of the same medication. The Canadian government — like many other nations — has stricter limits on how much drug companies can charge for medication.
A final word of advice
If you do choose to purchase prescription medications online, check NABP’s AWARxE Prescription Drug Safety website first, to make sure the source is both safe and legitimate before you order.
As a final safety reminder, only order prescription medication from websites that have been reviewed and approved by NABP.
Those would be sites with Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS or Vet-VIPPS) accreditation or that end in a .pharmacy domain name. The sites have been verified by the NABP, and those that apply for the .pharmacy domain are checked for compliance before they are allowed to use it.