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Buying Prescriptions Online: Is It Safe?

We're thrilled to present this smart LearnVest story here on Savvy!

Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

There isn’t anything you can’t get on the internet anymore–and for a lot less (though we’ll take our chances on the last of the trio before the other two).

As for the drugs (doctor-approved, not the other kind), prescription medications can really add up, so it’s no wonder that online pharmacies have grown in popularity over the past ten years.

Granted, shopping at an online pharmacy sounds dodgy because it’s harder to get a sense of who’s dealing. And some suspicion is warranted: In 2010, the production and selling of counterfeit drugs was estimated to be a $75 billion industry.


But, there are also a number of safe online pharmacies that will process prescriptions and deliver medications to your door, many of which offer legitimate discounts (especially if you’re willing to buy generic).

Buying drugs online can be a great way to save money on prescriptions, as long as you do it responsibly. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Counterfeit Drug?

Drugs are considered counterfeit when their identities or sources are fraudulently mislabeled. Sometimes they contain toxic substances or harmful combinations of active ingredients, and other times they’re simply ineffective.

It’s important to buy prescriptions only from legitimate pharmacy websites: Last summer, FDA investigators discovered an online site selling “generic Tamiflu” to flu-sufferers, but the product actually contained unmarked doses of cloxacillin, a life-threatening ingredient for those with penicillin allergies. Only buy medicine from an accredited online pharmacy. When you go with an approved website, your patient information will be as protected and secure as it would be at a trustworthy local pharmacy.

1. Make Sure Your Online Pharmacy Is Legit.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, or NABP, has accredited 28 approved online pharmacies. Its program, VIPPS, or Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites, gives accreditation only to legitimate pharmacies whose practices are approved by the NABP. When you go with VIPPS-approved websites, your patient information is as protected and secure as it would be at a trustworthy local pharmacy.

Click here for a list of VIPPS pharmacies for safe online shopping.

2. Don’t Play Doctor.

Legitimate online pharmacies require a doctor’s prescription for all prescription meds, and they’ll monitor your prescriptions to protect you from harmful drug interactions. Don’t trust any site that lets you order prescriptions without your physician’s approval.

3. Talk To Your Insurance Provider.

Some insurance providers like Aetna and Humana have their own online sites for easy home delivery. If you want to use other VIPPS-approved pharmacies like, just enter your insurance information before placing your order. Talk to your insurance company before ordering prescriptions online to find out how much your co-pay will be for a particular drug.

4. Comparison Shop…Within Reason.

You can find great deals by substituting generics for brand-name medications, but be wary of “cheap” brand-name drugs, as suspiciously cheap drugs are most likely counterfeits. Use to compare prices for brand-name drugs and their generic substitutes by searching VIPPS-approved pharmacy sites.

5. Be Your Own Advocate.

If you have an adverse unexpected side effect from a medication purchased online, contact your physician immediately. Never take medications that are cracked or chipped or come in bottles that are sloppily labeled or mishandled. If you are worried about the appearance of a medication, contact the online pharmacy and voice your concerns before taking it.

6. Stay Informed.

The NABP recently re-launched a website called AWARxE to keep consumers informed about the safety of prescription meds. Stay up-to-date with the latest information about medication recalls, fraudulent pharmacies, and counterfeit drugs.

More On How to Acquire Drugs…

How do you save $500 per year at the pharmacy? Like this.
Learn how to navigate the system in order to save on eye care. Read here.
We put together an “ideal” medicine cabinet stocked in all the right ways. (See how it looks.)

Image Source: Thinkstock
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