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E-pharmacies: Good bargain or bad medicine?

Online pharmacies are all over the web. These tips can help you make sure you're getting good medicine from a good source.

Don't talk to strangers, believe everything you read or judge a book by its cover—throughout life, messages like these teach us to use a healthy dose of caution in unfamiliar territory. If you buy prescription drugs online, you'll want to bring some of that caution with you.

Though there are hundreds of legitimate and legal online pharmacies, there are hundreds more that are neither, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. If you don't shop wisely, you could risk your health and your wealth. Look for these signs of a safe site, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

They require a prescription. One of the best checkups for online pharmacies is whether they require a prescription from a doctor. This prescription should generally come from a physical visit to a doctor's office, not an online form you fill out for a doctor you never see.

A doctor needs to know about your medical history and generally perform a physical exam before he or she can be sure that a drug will be both safe and effective for you.

A legitimate site should also offer a way to consult with a registered pharmacist.

They're licensed. All legal pharmacies are licensed. Check your state board of pharmacy's license database to find out if a site is registered and in good standing.

You can reach them. If the company doesn't identify itself clearly or provide a U.S. address and phone number to contact for problems, move on to another site.

If you don't have a way to contact the company, you can't get a refund or replacement if there's something wrong with the medicines you get in the mail.

If a site meets these requirements, shop away. According to FDA, legitimate online pharmacies offer many advantages, including:

  • Easier access for people who have difficulty getting to pharmacies.
  • Easier comparison shopping for prices and products.
  • Easier access to written information.
  • 24-hour service.
  • Privacy.

If you come across a suspicious looking site, report it on FDA's website.

Reviewed 2/12/2021

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