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Buying prescription drugs online: The do's and don'ts -

Ordering prescription drugs online can save you time and sometimes even money ? but you must be careful. Safeguard your health and finances with these simple do's and don'ts.

Point, click and buy. We do it for books, groceries, plane tickets ? even vehicles. Why not add prescription drugs to the list?

Ordering prescription drugs online can save you time and sometimes even money. Many online pharmacies provide information about drug interactions. Some even e-mail alerts when a drug is recalled or a generic equivalent becomes available.

But you must be careful. Questionable online pharmacies may ship expired drugs or those that haven't been stored properly. Others don't require a prescription or check for drug interactions. Some sites skirt the edge of legality.

To safeguard your health and finances, remember these simple do's and don'ts.


  • Consult your doctor. Your doctor can determine if a particular drug is safe for you or if another treatment would be more appropriate. Make sure your doctor knows all the medications you're taking, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
  • Use a licensed pharmacy. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy can tell you whether a particular online pharmacy is licensed and in good standing. Some sites carry a seal of approval from Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites, or VIPPS. To gain this approval, sites must maintain state licenses and allow inspections by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
  • Insist on access to a registered pharmacist. Reputable sites offer toll-free access to registered pharmacists for help answering your medication questions. Some online pharmacies have traditional physical locations as well. If you have questions about a medication after you begin taking it or you're concerned about drug reactions, it may be especially valuable to speak with a pharmacist in person.
  • Read the privacy and security policies. Before placing an order, be confident that your credit card number, personal health information and other personally identifiable information will be protected.
  • Compare prices. You may find great deals online. But there aren't any guarantees. Your local drugstore might beat the online price.
  • Be cautious of sites based in foreign countries. Legitimate international sites exist. But there are risks. The product label or instructions may be in a language you don't understand. The medication may not be held to the same rigorous safety standards. A medication sold in the United States may be a different product with the same name in another country. Some foreign sites sell drugs that are illegal in the United States.

  • Use a site that bypasses prescriptions. Only your doctor can safely prescribe medication and monitor side effects.
  • Order medication that's not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Taking an inappropriate or unsafe drug may have life-threatening consequences.
  • Overlook the address and phone number. Steer clear of sites that don't provide a street address and phone number or list only foreign contact information. An e-mail address isn't enough.
  • Succumb to false claims. Don't buy medication from sites that advertise "miracle cures" or those that use impressive terminology to disguise a lack of good science.
  • Keep complaints quiet. If your order doesn't arrive, you find unauthorized charges on your credit card or you have another problem with an online pharmacy, report it to the FDA. Speaking up can help promote a safer marketplace for everyone.

Take control

When your doctor prescribes a medication, make sure you understand why you need it ? and how to take it correctly. Whether you fill your prescription at a local pharmacy or online, make sure you get just what the doctor ordered.

  • Is your name printed correctly on the medication label?
  • Is the name of the medication correct?
  • Does the dosage match the prescription?
  • Is the packaging intact?
  • Is the expiration date clearly listed?
  • Do the instructions make sense?
  • Is there printed information about warnings and precautions?
  • If you have any questions or concerns, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking the medication. A simple phone call may help you prevent a potentially serious or costly mistake.
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