Are Online Pharmacies Safe?

Today, you can buy just about anything online – including prescription medications. Increasingly more people are turning to the internet to find alternatives for their prescription drugs. Instead of paying high prices at local pharmacies, it’s possible to purchase the very same medications from online pharmacies. And, at first glance, this seems like a convenient, money-saving idea.

But how can you know if online pharmacies are safe? There are plenty of online pharmacies that advertise cheap prices and popular prescription medications. Are these pharmacies too good to be true?

Purchasing your prescription drugs from an online pharmacy can be a safe and smart choice. However, it could also be quite dangerous if you purchase from a “rogue” pharmacy. Here’s how you can determine which online pharmacies are safe and which are trying to scam customers.

Types of Online Pharmacies

Before you make a purchase from an online pharmacy, it’s important to understand the different types of pharmacies that exist online.

Buying prescription drugs from an online pharmacy is legal – but only if certain rules are followed. According to VeryWellHealth, whether or not it’s legal to purchase prescriptions online depends on factors like:

  • Where you’re located.
  • Where the pharmacy you’re ordering from is located.
  • Whether or not you need a prescription for your medication.

It’s a good idea to research whether or not online pharmacies are legal in your specific area before you make a purchase.

The type of pharmacy you order from also determines whether or not your purchase is legal. There are three primary types of online pharmacies: retail pharmacies that have websites, network or mail-order pharmacies, and online-only pharmacies.

Local Drugstore and Pharmacy Websites

These types of online pharmacies are reputable and trustworthy. They are websites, or online pharmacies, that are operated by well-known drugstores. You can either shop these drugstores and pharmacies at physical locations near you, or you may be able to have your prescriptions filled right on their website.

Local drugstores and pharmacies that have online pharmacies include:

  • CVS
  • Walgreens
  • Rite Aid
  • Target
  • Walmart

You may also find that other drugstores and local pharmacies in your area offer websites that allow you to fill and receive prescription medications without leaving home.

Network or Mail-Order Pharmacies

Health insurance companies often work with network or mail-order pharmacies. These types of pharmacies, which can operate online, handle larger amounts of prescription drugs and may offer lower prices. Generally, network or mail-order pharmacies are as legitimate as local pharmacies.

Reputable network or mail-order pharmacies include:

  • Caremark
  • Express Scripts
  • Medco

Check with your insurance company to see if there’s a preferred mail-order pharmacy you can use. You may be able to fill, renew, and even bulk order your prescriptions online and have them mailed to you. However, it’s best to verify the company and website legitimacy with your insurer first.

Online-Only Pharmacies

Online-only pharmacies are pharmacies that do not have a physical presence. There are no store locations, where you can walk in, hand over a prescription, and make a purchase. Instead these pharmacies operate entirely online.

Unfortunately, online-only pharmacies are the most difficult type to verify. It’s difficult to determine which online-only pharmacies are legal and legitimate and which are dangerous scams. You’ll need to do careful research in order to make certain that an online-only pharmacy sells legal medications in order to be safe.

How to Spot Unsafe or Counterfeit Online Pharmacies

Being able to determine which online pharmacies are legitimate and which are unsafe is critical. You need to vet an online pharmacy thoroughly before placing an order. Otherwise, you may place an order with a rogue pharmacy that sells unapproved, counterfeit, or dangerous drugs.

Fortunately, the FDA offers a BeSafeRX program that can help you identify which pharmacies are legitimate and which are not. Here are a few signs the FDA recommends looking for when you’re checking out online pharmacies:

  • Allow customers to buy prescription medication without an actual prescription.
  • Don’t have a U.S. state-licensed pharmacist on staff who can answer your questions.
  • Offer low prices (particularly, prices so low they seem too good to be true).
  • Offer cheap medicine via email.
  • Send frequent spam emails advertising medications.
  • Are located outside of the U.S.
  • Claim to ship worldwide.

Be wary of any online pharmacy that shows these red flags.

Additionally, you should keep in mind that many rogue online pharmacies tend to prominently display the Canadian flag. They do this to make customers think that they simply sell prescription medications from Canada – but it can be nothing more than a purposefully misleading sign.

Signs of a Legitimate, Safe Online Pharmacy

Now that you know what to look for in illegitimate pharmacies, it’s also important to know how to spot an authentic, legitimate pharmacy online. Remember, not all online pharmacies are bad – there are ways to order your prescription medication online without any worry.

According to the FDA, the hallmarks of a safe online pharmacy include:

  • The pharmacy requires a valid prescription from a doctor or licensed healthcare professional.
  • Being licensed by your state’s board of pharmacy or an equivalent agency.
  • The pharmacy has a U.S. state-licensed pharmacist on staff who can answer questions.
  • It’s located in the U.S., with a valid U.S. street address.
  • The pharmacy fills and ships orders from the U.S.

Before you place an order with an online pharmacy, it’s also a smart idea to check the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). This organization offers a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites Seal, or VIPPS Seal, which helps internet users determine whether or not an online pharmacy is approved by NABP.

How to Safely Order Medication From an Online Pharmacy

After you’ve properly vetted and verified an online pharmacy to determine that it sells legal medication, you’ll be ready to place an order. And ordering from an online pharmacy has the potential to save you both time and money.

Before you place your order, make sure you get all of the information you can about the price of your prescription medications. You should look at and compare pricing from different reputable online pharmacies. You can also look for discounts and coupons, as well as the cost of generic versus name brand medications.

Then, see if you’re able to use your health insurance to reduce the cost of your medication. If you have health insurance, you may be able to use it – and that can reduce or eliminate the cost. Check with your insurance company to see if they have a recommended online pharmacy. Or, you can ask an online pharmacy which insurance providers they accept.

If you don’t have health insurance, you’ll want to spend a bit more time carefully comparing prescription medication prices from different online pharmacies. Different legal online pharmacies may sell your medications at different prices. See if there are any special savings or offers available that you might be able to take advantage of.

Ultimately, the most important thing you need to remember when considering an online pharmacy is careful research. If you do careful research, compare different pharmacies, and verify that a pharmacy is legitimate, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing you’ve ordered the right medication.

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Apr 7, 2020