Purchasing drugs on the internet

What happens when you purchase drugs online or from another country? As drug costs increase, people look for less expensive ways to purchase medications. Internet purchasing is becoming a powerful tool for purchasing drugs. Is this safe? There has been a proliferation of Internet sites devoted to filling prescriptions online for everything from Viagra to anti-inflammatory agents. Many sites legitimately dispense drugs. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is concerned that the "Internet has created a marketplace for the sale of unapproved new drugs, prescription drugs dispensed without a valid prescription or products that are marketed with fraudulent claims."

Due to the blitz of direct-to-consumer advertising, patients frequently request drugs that may or may not be what is best for them. In days past, the physician talked with the patient or family member about a medical problem and the most appropriate drug to treat it. But now we are faced with patients requesting specific medications based on what they saw on television, read in a magazine, or heard from their friends.

Many people have visited Canada or Mexico to buy medications at a reduced price for personal use in the United States. Many drugs that are illegal in the US are readily available in Mexico. Retin-A® is markedly cheaper in Mexico, but is it the same drug? Even if the drug bears a familiar name, it might be counterfeit, unsafe, and completely ineffective. Quality assurance is an important factor to consider when purchasing drugs outside the United States.

When purchasing drugs online, do you know where the drugs originate? Often, it is IMPOSSIBLE to identify where the online pharmacy is operating (its country of origin).

The FDA has issued the following warning for people who buy their products online:

  • You are put at risk when buying from an illegal website. You may receive counterfeit products, contaminated products, the wrong drug, or an incorrect dose.
  • You are at risk taking an unsafe or inappropriate medication.
  • Getting a prescription drug on line WITHOUT seeing a doctor (i.e., by only filling out a form) puts you at great risk. Do you honestly believe that a short questionnaire takes the place of a history and physical exam done by a physician who knows you?

If you MUST buy your products online, consider these guidelines:

  • See the website of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy,, to determine if the pharmacy is a licensed pharmacy in good standing.
  • Do not purchase drugs from a site that offers to sell you your prescription drug the first time without a physical examination.
  • Do not do business with a pharmacy that does not have a registered pharmacist available to answer questions.

This information is made available to help all of us buy quality drugs at affordable prices. Our main sources are these:

  • Norcal Mutual Insurance Company.
  • Statement of William K. Hubbard, (formerly) Associate Commissioner for Policy, Planning and Legislation, before the Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness, US House of Representatives on April 3, 2003.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at //

Consult with your doctor or pharmacist if you have additional concerns.