Protecting Yourself While Using An Online Pharmacy

When your health insurance company utilizes an online pharmacy, directing you to use the online service for certain medications and refills, you can be confident that the medication that you receive will be no different from the medication you would obtain from a neighborhood pharmacy.

However, if you are looking for an online pharmacy on your own, you should be careful that you're not sending your money to a company that is not operating lawfully, that might be selling expired or counterfeit medications, or might simply pocket your money.

The following steps can help you protect yourself when making online purchases of medication:

  • Avoid Online Prescription Services: It is potentially dangers and often unlawful for a doctor to prescribe medications to a person in another state, and for some medications to prescribe in-state without a physical examination of the patient. Consult a qualified health care professional in person before taking a new prescription medication.

  • Use Licensed U.S. Pharmacies: Be careful to only purchase drugs from licensed, ethical pharmacies.

  • Verify the Pharmacy's Address: If you order drugs online, check for a valid street address and phone number for the sponsoring pharmacy, and check to see if they're real.

  • Check Expiration Dates: If you receive drugs through the mail, check the expiration date printed on the bottle. If there is no date, or if the drugs will expire within three months, you probably should stop using that pharmacy.

  • Know What Your Pills Look Like: If the pills you receive from a mail order company look different from your usual prescription, make sure that the medication is real before you start taking it. Websites including and offer online pill identifiers that allow you to look at pictures of both brand name and generic medications.

  • Use Domestic Pharmacies: Don't order medications from foreign or overseas pharmacies that you find online. With the crackdown on international sales of pharmaceuticals, many of those operations will simply pocket your money, send you expired or counterfeit medication, or send you a package that ends up being intercepted by customs.

Use your common sense and remember:

  • If you find an online offer that seems too good to be true, it almost always is.
  • If you find an online pharmacy that is offering to sell you a controlled substance without a prescription, you are dealing with a criminal enterprise.
Copyright © 2003 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Apr 21, 2018.