Feature Archive

What to Avoid When Buying Drugs Online

Not all online pharmacies are equal. Here's what to look for and what to avoid when buying drugs online.

By Martin Downs
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

Not all online pharmacies are equal. Some adhere to the same standards that brick-and-mortar drugstores do. But many other sites operate in the margins of the law, or well outside of it, and authorities are keen to pull the plug on them.

"We don't have any concerns with a legitimate Internet pharmacy," says Kristina Lunner, director of federal government affairs for the American Pharmacists Association.

But the few trustworthy pharmacy sites share a marketplace crowded with dealers who, if their practices were made plain, you might not trust to sell you a newspaper, let alone fill your prescriptions.

"There's been a proliferation of illegitimate or rogue drug sellers who are using the Internet," Lunner says, being careful not to call them pharmacies per se.

You can buy prescription drugs online in basically one of three ways.

First, a site may fill your order the traditional way -- only after you present a doctor's prescription. You either have to send the prescription to them by fax or mail, or have the doctor call it in.

Moving into murkier territory, there are so-called "prescribing sites." They will take your order after you fill out an online questionnaire detailing your medical history, or after a brief phone consultation. Either way, a doctor working for the site reviews your information and writes the prescription for you (or not, depending on details you've provided and what drug you're ordering). You pay for this service, generally in the form of an additional "consultation fee."