Medications Purchased Online
Due to the cost of medications and convenience, some people have looked to online sources for their drugs. The safety and efficacy of medications purchased online cannot always be guaranteed.
While legitimate online pharmacies do exist, many are phony. Fake online pharmacies will often offer medications at significantly reduced prices and may advertise generic versions of medications that have not "gone generic" in the United States. In these cases, "cheap" and "generic" are not good qualities.
Medications sold by illegitimate online pharmacies are likely counterfeit and may be expired, have no active ingredient, contain different active ingredients, or contain harmful substances. The quality of any medication purchased online, whether brand-name or generic, cannot be guaranteed unless the online pharmacy is legitimate.
If you do wish to purchase medications online, verify that your online pharmacy is legitimate. You can do so by making sure that the pharmacy is licensed with your state board of pharmacy or with the board of pharmacy for the state in which the pharmacy is located. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has also developed a list of Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS). Pharmacies on this list have been verified and are legitimate.
Medications Purchased Outside the United States
Purchasing medications from a foreign country is illegal under most circumstances, yet according to a poll conducted in 2004, 1 in 10 Americans admitted to getting medications from another country because of cost issues. While there are a few instances in which medication importation is not necessarily illegal, purchasing medications from another country for personal use because they are less expensive is not one of them.
Aside from the legal implications of buying medications from other countries, there are health and safety concerns as well. Unlike buying medications online, where there is a way to verify that the online pharmacy is legitimate, there is no way to ensure that a product purchased from a foreign source is safe. Purchasing a medication from a foreign country is another instance in which "less expensive" and "generic" are not necessarily good qualities.
Many medications available outside of the United States are not FDA approved. This means that the safety and efficacy of these medications have not been established according to FDA guidelines, which are considered the gold standard around the world. In addition, medications in other countries are marketed under names different from those in the United States, making it difficult in some cases to be sure you are receiving the medication you expected.
Counterfeit medications are rampant in other countries, just like from fake online pharmacies. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 80 percent of medications are counterfeit in some countries. Even if you receive a medication that says it is what you ordered, it could be expired, have no active ingredient, contain different active ingredients, or contain harmful substances. Counterfeiting drugs is big business, and counterfeiters have become very good at making fake drugs look exactly like the real thing, so don't count on a visual inspection to tell you if it's real or not.
Finally, the FDA sets high standards for the facilities in which medications are manufactured. In the United States, you can be sure that the medications you purchase are made in a clean facility and that manufacturing practices are being monitored. The same cannot be guaranteed for medications purchased in other countries.