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Buying Medicine Online

Internet Pharmacies and You

These days, buying prescription drugs from the Internet is easy, but finding a safe source for those medicines is not. More and more people are turning to the Internet for cheaper drugs that are easy to get, but medicines purchased from these websites often come with the risk of harming you or your family. Rogue websites are all over the Internet selling drugs that are not what they appear to be. These sites may be selling drugs that are counterfeit, contaminated, or otherwise unsafe.

By being informed about the dangers of buying drugs on the Internet you can protect yourself and your family from the risks posed by rogue websites. NABP has been working with the state boards of pharmacy since 1999 to combat those sites that put your health and safety at risk. Over the years NABP has seen that the risks of buying from a rogue site don’t stop at the loss of money. Lives have been lost due to people buying medicines from sites that send dangerous drugs without medical oversight that may have been tampered with, expired, or even fake.

Knowing which websites are safe and which ones are not can be confusing. To help you make an informed choice, and as part of its mission to protect the public’s health, NABP has reviewed, and continues to review, thousands of websites to determine if they maintain safe pharmacy practices. Unfortunately, the majority of websites selling prescription drugs do not.

NABP has created two categories to help you make an informed choice:

  • Recommended Internet Pharmacies: NABP recommends that patients use sites accredited through the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) or Vet-VIPPS (Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) program. These sites have undergone and successfully completed the thorough NABP accreditation process, which includes a thorough review of all policies and procedures as well as an on-site inspection of all facilities used by the site to receive, review, and dispense medicine. 
  • Not Recommended Sites: These Internet drug outlets appear to be out of compliance with state and federal laws or NABP patient safety and pharmacy practice standards.

Buyer Beware! That Website Might Not Be What It Seems

Many websites selling prescription drugs are unlicensed, operating illegally, or operating from foreign countries where medicines shipped to the United States are unregulated. Thus, there is no way of knowing whether the medicine you receive is contaminated, sub-potent, super-potent, expired, or counterfeit, or whether it has been stored and shipped under proper conditions to maintain its effectiveness.

And that Canadian online pharmacy with the cheaper prices? It may be calling itself a “Canadian pharmacy,” but it may actually obtain its medications from countries in Asia, South America, or Eastern Europe, where quality standards are more lax and counterfeit medications more widespread. While counterfeit medications can surface anywhere, they are significantly more common in developing foreign countries. That is the problem with buying medicine from foreign sources – you never know what you’re getting. 

While there are some excellent Canadian Internet pharmacy sites, NABP cannot recommend any Canadian site selling drugs to Americans because Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations prohibit this activity. Prescription drugs imported from other countries are not FDA-approved and their safety and effectiveness cannot be ensured because they are outside the legal structure and regulatory resources provided by Congress.

What Are Sites Listed as Not Recommended Doing Wrong?

NABP continually reviews websites selling prescription drugs to help you see through rogue sites. Of the over 10,500 Internet sites reviewed, NABP found that 97% of the sites fall in the Not Recommended category because they appear to be operating in conflict with pharmacy laws and practice standards. The 10,392 Internet drug outlets currently listed as Not Recommended on the NABP website are characterized as follows:

  • 23% have a physical address located outside of the US (though most rogue sites do not post any address)
  • 88% do not require a valid prescription
  • 60% issue prescriptions per online consultation or questionnaire only
  • 49% offer foreign or non-Food and Drug Administration (FDA-) approved drugs
  • 16%  do not have secure sites
  • 41% have server locations in foreign countries
  • 12% dispense controlled substances

Only 3% of the sites NABP reviewed are potentially legitimate in that they appear to meet pharmacy laws and practice standards, based on information obtained by looking at the website. NABP highly recommends that you use only those Internet pharmacies that are VIPPS or Vet-VIPPS accredited. Currently, 59 sites, representing more than 12,000 online pharmacies, have received accreditation.

Additional Resources for Internet Pharmacies

NABP recognizes that some non-accredited Internet pharmacies may be operating legitimately. Of those entities that approve non-accredited Internet pharmacies, LegitScript.com is the only one that adheres to NABP-recognized standards.

NABP does not collect data on the prices of prescription medications. Information and price comparisons on medications available at legitimately operating Internet pharmacies are available at Pharmahelper.com, which lists only those Internet pharmacies that adhere to NABP-recognized standards.

If you have concerns or questions about a website selling prescription drugs, contact NABP at custserv@nabp.net or via the online Report a Site page. Or contact your local state board of pharmacy and the state board of pharmacy where the Internet drug outlet is located.