FDA Safety Guide

Buying Prescription Medicine Online
A Consumer Safety Guide

Buying your medicine online can be easy.
Just make sure you do it safely.

The Internet has changed the way we live, work and shop. The growth of the Internet has made it possible to compare prices and buy products without ever leaving home. But when it comes to buying medicine online, it is important to be very careful. Some Web sites sell medicine that may not be safe to use and could put your health at risk.

Some Web sites that sell medicine:

  • aren’t U.S. state-licensed pharmacies or aren’t pharmacies at all
  • may give a diagnosis that is not correct and sell medicine that is not right for you or your condition
  • won’t protect your personal information

Some medicines sold online:

  • are fake (counterfeit or “copycat” medicines)
  • are too strong or too weak
  • have dangerous ingredients
  • have expired (are out-of-date)
  • aren’t FDA-approved (haven’t been checked for safety and effectiveness)
  • aren’t made using safe standards
  • aren’t safe to use with other medicine or products you use
  • aren’t labeled, stored, or shipped correctly

Meet and Talk with Your Doctor

  • Talk with your doctor and have a physical exam before you get any new medicine for the first time.
  • Use ONLY medicine that has been prescribed by your doctor or another trusted professional who is licensed in the U.S. to write prescriptions for medicine.
  • Ask your doctor if there are any special steps you need to take to fill your prescription.
These tips will help protect you if you buy medicines online:
   KNOW YOUR SOURCE to make sure it’s safe

Make sure a Web site is a state-licensed pharmacy that is located in the United States. Pharmacies and pharmacists in the United States are licensed by a state’s board of pharmacy. Your state board of pharmacy can tell you if a Web site is a state-licensed pharmacy, is in good standing, and is located in the United States. Find a list of state boards of pharmacy on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) Web site at www.nabp.netExit Disclaimer.

The NABP is a professional association of the state boards of pharmacy. It has a program to help you find some of the pharmacies that are licensed to sell medicine online. Internet Web sites that display the seal of this program have been checked to make sure they meet state and federal rules. For more on this program and a list of pharmacies that display the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites™ Seal, (VIPPS® Seal), go to www.vipps.infoExit Disclaimer.

Look for Web sites with practices that protect you

A safe Web site should:

  1. be located in the United States and licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the Web site is operating (check www.nabp.net Exit Disclaimer for a list of state boards of pharmacy)

  2. have a licensed pharmacist to answer your questions

  3. require a prescription from your doctor or other health care professional who is licensed in the United States to write prescriptions for medicine

have a way for you to talk to a person if you have problems


Look for privacy and security policies that are easy-to-find and easy-to-understand.

Don’t give any personal information (such as social security number, credit card, or medical or health  history), unless you are sure the Web site will keep your information safe and private.

Make sure that the site will not sell your information, unless you agree.


Report Web sites you are not sure of, or if you have complaints about a site.

Reporting Unlawful Sales of Medical Products on the Internet

Buying your medicine online can be easy.  Just make sure you do it safely.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services | Food and Drug Administration
1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332)

In cooperation with the

National Council on Patient Information and Education
www.talkaboutrx.org Exit Disclaimer

Graphic version (PDF – 53KB)

One thought on “FDA Safety Guide

  1. SFA Reporter says:


    FDA moves to halt sales of unapproved drugs on 4,100 sites.

    TRENTON — The Food and Drug Administration is stepping up its fight against counterfeit and other potentially harmful medicines sold over the Internet.

    The agency is ordering operators of about 4,100 websites to immediately stop selling unapproved medications to U.S. consumers.

    The move is part of a weeklong global crackdown by regulatory bodies and law enforcement on websites selling counterfeit, substandard and unapproved medicines, aimed at making the global medicine supply safer.

    It also follows the FDA’s recent launching of a campaign to warn consumers that most online pharmacies do not follow laws or pharmacy industry standards and their products could harm or even kill. The campaign includes a new website, fda.gov/BeSafeRx, which explains the risks of fake online pharmacies and how to tell the difference in those websites from legitimate ones.

    The FDA has sent warning letters to three companies behind most of the 4,100 websites it identified as illegally selling potentially dangerous, unapproved drugs. It’s also seized some illegal medicines, filed civil and criminal charges against companies and individuals, and contacted Internet registrars and service providers, asking them to suspend the 4,100 websites.

    “This is a first step,” said Sarah Clark-Lynn, an FDA spokeswoman. “The door isn’t closed on these cases.”

    According to the FDA one business, CanadaDrugs.com, operates 3,710 of the targeted websites. Another, identified in the warning letter as Eyal Bar Oz, runs more than 200 sites. A third, Arkadiy Kisin/White Forest Solutions, also operates more than 200 sites.

    The warning letters say that the websites have been offering unapproved drugs to U.S. consumers. The letters, sent to the companies from Sept. 18 to 21, order them to reply within 10 business days. None of the companies responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press on Friday.

    Clark-Lynn said she did not know whether any of the companies had responded to the FDA.

    The drugs include various versions of the erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra, Levitra and Cialis, as well as an unapproved contraceptive called Norplant, an unapproved generic version of the influenza treatment Tamiflu, an unapproved antibiotic called Baycip TZ and a drug for stomach disorders that also increases production of breast milk but is not approved because it’s been linked to irregular heartbeats, cardiac arrest and sudden death.

    The warning letters to the three companies are part of a simultaneous crackdown on online sellers of counterfeit and illegal medical products, involving police and regulators in 100 countries around the world.


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