Is it safe to buy prescription drugs online?


Columbia, Mo.—Millions of Americans have purchased prescription medications from online pharmacies, citing the convenience and lower costs of buying on the Internet. In recent years, many Americans have even turned to online pharmacies outside the U.S. to purchase expensive medications at cheaper prices. However, questions of safety and security arise, and it can be difficult to determine whether the benefits of purchasing prescription drugs online outweigh the risks.

“When you buy prescription drugs online, you’re missing out on the benefits of a relationship with your pharmacist,” said Triston Brownfield, pharmacist and owner of D&H Drugstore in Columbia. “More importantly, you run the dangerous risk of using medications that might interact with other drugs you are taking.”

Brownfield also says delivery from online or mail-order pharmacies exposes prescription drugs to temperatures or conditions that could reduce their effectiveness. In addition, not all online pharmacies are state-licensed, and sites appearing to operate from the United States can in fact be located in foreign countries. Most alarming are Web sites selling counterfeit, weakened or expired drugs, posing an extreme hazard to a patient’s health.

“A local pharmacist can often help you find safe and effective generic drugs or other options to better fit your budget,” Brownfield said. “However, if you’re going to buy online, it’s very important to know exactly who you’re dealing with.”

Brownfield suggests verifying that a pharmacy is licensed to dispense drugs by visiting and contacting the state board of pharmacies where the Web site is operated. Be especially cautious of sites where no prescription is required, as they do not likely have the patient’s health in mind. Finally, make sure a Web site is secure before entering payment information online.

“Fraudulent online pharmacies can commit identity theft by obtaining an individual’s financial information,” said Dave Sill, mail administrator for Socket, a Missouri-based telephone and Internet provider. “Take a couple seconds to verify security before placing an order.”

Sill recommends checking for the closed padlock icon located at the bottom of your Web browser before submitting credit card information. He also says secure Web sites will always begin with the letters “https.”

For additional information about buying prescription drugs online, refer to a consumer safety guide from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at

Although building a relationship with a local pharmacist is always ideal, the online pharmacy experience can be a safe and affordable choice to purchase prescription drugs. If the proper safety steps are taken, an online pharmacy can deliver just what the doctor ordered.

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