Beware of Internet Pharmacies

We’ve all received our share of spam e-mail advertising Internet pharmacies, pushing all sorts of drugs, from pain medications to Viagra®. Not only is that junk mail unwanted and annoying, if you buy from these purveyors, you could be putting your health — or your life — in danger! Buying prescriptions from unknown sources might put you at risk for receiving counterfeit or substandard medications.

Some online pharmacies operate outside the US, meaning they’re not governed by our state and federal laws. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, importing prescriptions from other countries is illegal and might even be dangerous. “Consumers are exposed to a number of risks when they purchase drugs from foreign sources or from sources that are not operated by pharmacies licensed under state pharmacy law. These outlets may dispense expired, sub potent, contaminated or counterfeit product; the wrong or contraindicated (medically inadvisable) product; incorrect doses or medication unaccompanied by adequate directions for use.” (

Molly McClain, RPh, has been a pharmacist for 20 years. “Some Internet pharmacies may sell prescriptions for less than a traditional pharmacy, but you can’t be sure where it’s coming from.” She added that some insurance companies require that their subscribers have their prescriptions filled either by mail or online by a company they recommend. In these cases, you certainly can trust the web site. But, “there’s a lot to be said for that personal contact,” McClain says. “Your local pharmacist is there for you to talk to, can counsel you on the use of your medicines and possible side effects and interactions and even have your medications delivered to you if you’re unable to make the trip to the pharmacy,” according to McClain. Molly and her husband, Pat McClain, also a registered pharmacist, own and operate the Prescription Shoppe in Carthage, Tar Heel Drug in Robbins and Peak City Pharmacy in Apex, North Carolina.

If you do decide to purchase your prescriptions on the Internet, the US Food and Drug Administration recommends that you:

  • Only buy from state-licensed pharmacy Web sites located in the U.S.
  • Don’t buy from Web sites that sell prescription drugs without a prescription.
  • Don’t buy from Web sites that offer to prescribe a drug for the first time without a physical exam by your doctor or by answering an online questionnaire.
  • Check with your state board of pharmacy or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to see if an online pharmacy has a valid pharmacy license and meets state quality standards.
  • Look for privacy and security policies that are easy to find and easy to understand.
  • Don’t give any personal information, such as a social security number, credit card information, or medical or health history, unless you are sure the Web site will keep your information safe and private.
  • Use legitimate Web sites that have a licensed pharmacist to answer your question.
  • Make sure that the Web site will not sell your personal information, unless you agree.   (

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy® has published a list of recommended online pharmacies and another list of those they do not recommend. To view the lists, visit their web site at

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