An online pharmacy can provide you with an easy and private way to buy prescription and over-the-counter medications, often at a more affordable price. Many online pharmacies are legitimate businesses, and for the most part, you can use their services with the same confidence you have in your neighborhood pharmacy.
Unfortunately, there are numerous fraudulent or disreputable online pharmacies that may sell you medications illegally, do not follow proper procedures for filling your prescription and may not protect your personal information. As a result, you are at a greater risk of getting counterfeit drugs if you have your prescriptions filled online.
Regrettably, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates prescription drugs in the United States, has no ability to monitor the safety and efficacy of imported products.
Several organizations, including the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) and PharmacyChecker, evaluate online drugstores for the quality of the services they provide. Both organizations reject the majority of Internet pharmacies. Moreover, according to the NABP, 99% of the Internet drug companies they review are not in compliance with state or federal regulations.
Since websites can pop up overnight and disappear as quickly, there is little that can be done if you receive counterfeit drugs or if you are the victim of a scam. The FDA suggests you avoid foreign Internet sites. Additionally, remember that if you buy your medication from a domestic website, the legitimate ones require a valid prescription from your doctor.
National Association of Boards of Pharmacy
The NABP is a professional association of the state boards of pharmacy, which are responsible for licensing pharmacists and pharmacies in the 50 states. In 1999, the NABP developed the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program after consumers complained to state pharmacy boards about rogue sites posing as legitimate pharmacies. Internet websites that display the VIPPS seal have been checked by the NABP to make sure they meet state and federal rules.
The NABP screens the quality of services of online pharmacies in 17 areas, such as how they fill prescriptions, how they protect your confidential information and how they communicate with you. You will see the VIPPS seal on the websites of certified companies.
Check with the NABP to determine if the site you want to use is a licensed pharmacy in good standing. The NABP has certified 15 online pharmacies as VIPPS, including:
- Cigna Tel-Drug
- Liberty Medical Supply
- Medco Health Solutions
- Prescription Solutions
- Prime Therapeutics
- Rx Direct
- WellPoint NextRx
Is VIPPS the Best Option For Me?
The NABP works very closely with the FDA to determine which online pharmacies receive the VIPPS seal of approval. Due to this relationship and the fact that the NABP represents the 50 state boards that license pharmacies, only U.S. companies can receive the VIPPS seal. NABP rejects all foreign online drugstores even if they are legitimate and provide a high level of service.
If you live in the United States, there are potential benefits of using online pharmacies that have received the VIPPS seal, including:
- Lower prices on generics. Generic drug prices at many U.S. online pharmacies are lower than either the brand name drug or its generic equivalent that are sold in other countries.
- Ability to use your prescription drug insurance to purchase medications
- Less expensive or no shipping charges
- Easier to take legal action if you have problems with an online drugstore
- Confidence that the online company meets all U.S. drug and pharmacy safety regulations
PharmacyChecker is a for-profit company that “collects, evaluates and reports credentials, prices and customer feedback regarding pharmacies that operate online.” Unlike NABP, PharmacyChecker verifies both U.S. and foreign online drugstores, and it provides price comparisons for specific medications along with ratings from consumers based on a five-star rating system. To receive the PharmacyChecker “seal of approval," pharmacies must:
- Dispense their medications through a pharmacy that has a license in the United States, Canada or other country accepted by PharmacyChecker
- Assure that the financial information you send online is secure
- Assure that the medical information you send online is private
- Require an original prescription from your doctor
- Provide correct contact information on its website, including the company address and phone number
PharmacyChecker has certified more than 30 online pharmacies, most of which are based in foreign countries, such as Canada and India. The ratings, profiles and consumer feedback for these online drugstores can be found on the PharmacyChecker website.
PharmacyChecker provides some assurance that you are dealing with legitimate companies that are properly licensed in their home country. Although you may be able to find some brand name medications at bargain prices, there are some problems using these online pharmacies, including:
- You may have to pay high shipping costs, which will decrease your savings
- Generic drugs are often more expensive outside of the United States.
- Many legitimate foreign pharmacies do not dispense or discount so-called “lifestyle” drugs, such as Viagra (Sildenafil)
- The value of the U.S. dollar compared to foreign currency may decrease your savings
- You cannot use your drug benefit from your health plan, including Medicare Part D
What is the Bottom Line?
If you decide to buy medications online from a foreign company, it is very important that you understand the legal issues. According to the FDA, “it is illegal to import an unapproved drug in to the U.S.” and “it is illegal for anyone, including a foreign pharmacy, to ship prescription drugs that are not approved by the FDA in to the U.S., even though the drug may be legal to sell in that pharmacy's country.”
If you want to save money on prescription drug costs, KNOW YOUR SOURCE to make sure it’s safe, and stay within the law by selecting a U.S.-based online pharmacy.