Among the many changes caused by the pandemic has been a sharp uptick in what people buy online. The same concerns that have kept people ordering their groceries, clothing and even alcohol online have impacted trips to the pharmacy, too—more and more people are purchasing their medications online.
Despite this, only 3% of online pharmacies are in compliance with the law and industry standards, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. That means people who are buying medications online must be careful to ensure they're purchasing them from a safe, reputable pharmacy. Non-reputable pharmacies may sell medicines that have an incorrect amount of the active ingredient, the wrong active ingredients or ingredients that can be harmful.
To ensure safety, follow these five tips from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Mayo Clinic:
- Don’t lower your standards: Just because the it’s online, you shouldn’t lower the standards you’d expect in a pharmacy. For example, if an online pharmacy allows you to purchase prescription medicine without a valid prescription, that’s a major red flag that the medications may not be safe. Check to see if the pharmacy is licensed — if you can’t easily verify the licensing status of the pharmacy, you should avoid it.
- If it’s too good to be true — it is: Ultra-cheap medication delivered the next day for free? No copays required? If the offer being presented to you by an online pharmacy seems too fantastic to be real, it probably is. Medications are closely regulated, and it’s unlikely that a random online pharmacy has secured brand-name drugs at a fraction of the price you expect. If they can’t produce a license, look somewhere else for your purchase.
- Speak with a pharmacist: Every pharmacy should have a state-licensed pharmacist available to answer questions and help patients, even those buying medicines online. If you’re not sure if a pharmacy is legitimate, ask to speak to the pharmacist — and if you can’t get in touch with someone, consider that to be a sign of bigger trouble. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy provides a seal (the VPPS® Seal) to reputable online pharmacies, and you can check their website to find legitimate vendors.
- Keep an Eye on Your Data: Filling an online prescription requires surrendering a lot of personal data, and that’s before you enter any payment information. Check the website’s security certificates, and double-check it uses a secure payment processor. Rogue pharmacies may sell your data to disreputable parties, or use it for nefarious means.
- Check the Location: Any reputable pharmacy will be located in the United States and licensed. Many online pharmacies claim to be in Canada, but they could be located anywhere — especially if they offer to ship worldwide. Make sure all of the addresses associated with the online pharmacy you select match up with its license and other information.
There are a lot of good reasons to purchase medicine online. As costs increase, it can be cheaper. Home delivery encourages social distancing and online pharmacies provide convenient access to prescriptions. Just follow the tips above to take advantage of this convenience safely.