Buying Prescription Drugs Online: Health Information for Older People

I prefer to shop online if I can save some money. Is there any reason I shouldn't buy prescription drugs or other medical products online?

Shopping online can be a convenient way to look around and compare prices. But when it comes to buying prescription drugs online, be cautious: You could end up with drugs that are fake or include dangerous ingredients. Or, scammers who set up legitimate-looking websites could trick you into giving up personal information that they can use to steal your identity, take your money and send defective drugs, or simply vanish and send nothing at all.

So how do you tell if you’re dealing with a reputable pharmacy? The FDA recommends using only websites of U.S.-based pharmacies licensed by a state’s board of pharmacy. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has contact information for your state’s board, as well as a list of online pharmacies that have been accredited through its Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program. These pharmacies are licensed and meet other NABP criteria. You’ll also find a list of sites they don’t recommend.

Avoid sites that:

  • Don’t require a prescription
  • Don’t have a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions
  • Don’t provide their physical business address and phone number
  • Are based outside the U.S. or aren’t licensed by the state board of
    pharmacy where they are based

A disreputable seller could send drugs that are fake, expired, mislabeled, or the wrong dosage. The drugs could contain dangerous ingredients, or may not be stored or shipped correctly. And if the site is based outside the U.S., there’s very little the U.S. government can do if you get ripped off. For more on buying drugs — or other medical products — online, visit the FDA website. And keep in mind that drug prices vary, so you may want to shop around.

For more on saving money with generic drugs, read Generic Drugs and Switching Prescriptions.

Compare drug prices at different pharmacies online like you would offline, and remember to factor in shipping costs.  

Who Cares About Buying Prescription Drugs Online?


Your state board of pharmacy