FRIDAY, Nov. 18, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to be careful when buying prescription medication online. While some pharmacy websites operate legally and can offer convenience, privacy, and lower costs, others may be selling unapproved, counterfeit, and unsafe medications.

Many unsafe online pharmacies do exist, offering prescription medications without requiring a prescription and selling them at “deeply discounted” prices. These pharmacies may use fake “storefronts” designed to mimic licensed pharmacies. They may imply or say that their medicines come from countries with high safety standards, according to the FDA. Yet, what they are selling could be made anywhere without safety or effectiveness. The drugs could also be fake or expired.

Patients should be wary if the online pharmacy does not require a doctor’s prescription, the FDA cautioned. Other red flags: The pharmacy is not licensed in the United States or by the state board of pharmacy and does not have a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer questions. Patients should also watch out for medicine that looks different from that dispensed at their usual pharmacy, arrives in damaged packaging, is labeled in a foreign language, has no expiration date, or is expired. A price that seems too good to be true is another warning sign.

The medications from these pharmacies may have too much or too little of the active ingredients, or they may contain a different active ingredient or a harmful substance. These medications may not only fail to be effective, but may also have unexpected interactions with other medications, cause allergic reactions, or have dangerous side effects. Furthermore, they may not have been stored properly, possibly making them ineffective.

Despite all of these problems, it is still possible to find a safe online pharmacy. The FDA suggests looking for one that always requires a doctor’s prescription, provides a physical address and telephone number in the United States, and has a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer questions. The online pharmacy should be licensed with a state board of pharmacy. A pharmacy’s license can be verified in the state’s board of pharmacy license database by using the location tool on the FDA BeSafeRx website.

More Information

BeSafeRx: For Health Professionals

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