Buyer Beware...Of Medications From Other Countries

Looks can be deceiving, the medicine you buy across the borders may be unsafe or ineffective, don't risk your health!

Occasionally, U.S. residents travel to other countries to purchase medications (drugs) for personal use or order such medications from foreign sources. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is concerned that medications you purchase abroad may present health risks.

Here's what you should know: 

  • Quality assurance concerns: Medications that have not been approved for sale in the United States may not have been manufactured under quality assurance procedures designed to produce a safe and effective product.

  • Counterfeit potential: Some imported medications - even those that bear the name of a U.S. "approved product" may, in fact, be counterfeit versions that are unsafe or even completely ineffective.

  • Presence of untested substances: Some imported medications and their ingredients, although legal in foreign countries, may not have been evaluated for safety and effectiveness in the United States. These products may be addictive or contain other dangerous substances.

  • Risks of unsupervised use: Some medications, whether imported or not, are unsafe when taken without adequate medical supervision. You may need a medical evaluation to ensure that the medication is appropriate for you and your condition. Or, you may require medical checkups to make sure that you are taking the drug properly, it is working for you and that you are not having unexpected or life-threatening side effects.

  • Labeling and language issues: The medication's label, including instructions for use and possible side effects, may be in a language you do not understand and may make medical claims or suggest specific uses that have not been adequately evaluated for safety and effectiveness.

  • Lack of information: An imported medication may lack information that would permit you to be promptly and correctly treated for a dangerous side effect caused by the drug.

If you have any questions about the use of any medication, FDA (and the Medical Editors of encourages you to contact your physician, your local pharmacist or the Board of Pharmacy for the state in which you live.

The above information has been provided with the kind permission of the Food and Drug Administration (

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Last Editorial Review: 10/28/2002