Using Online Pharmacies? Beware.

Only 4% Found to be Compliant to State and Federal Regs

@Jack Hollingsworth, Getty Images

Searching for prescription medication online brings up many websites offering easy-to-get products at a cheap price. Who doesn’t like a discount? But those low prices and relaxed standards that include waiving the need for a prescription come at a cost.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy® (NABP®) has evaluated more than 10,900 online pharmacies and determined that only 4% are in compliance with state and federal pharmacy law or patient safety and pharmacy practice standards.

It is time to learn how to find safe online pharmacies to protect yourself and your loved ones.

How Should The Prescription Process Look?

The typical process for obtaining a prescription medication starts with:

1. going to your doctor for a physical examination

2. receiving a prescription based upon the doctors evaluation of your health

3. filling that prescription through a pharmacy, and

4a. picking up the prescribed medication from a licensed pharmacy staffed with a licensed pharmacist who can answer any questions that you may have about your purchase, or

4b. receiving your prescription medication in the mail from a licensed pharmacy with licensed pharmacists who can answer any questions that you may have about your purchase.

The process for obtaining a medication from a rogue online pharmacy can be very different. Rogue pharmacies do not follow state and federal pharmacy laws, so the process may look something like:

1a. purchasing a prescription medication without a prescription, or

1b. filling out an online questionnaire to obtain a prescription medication.

Do you see all of the steps that are missing? You may not even receive the medication that you purchased and if you do it could have too much, too little, or the wrong active ingredients.

The four steps listed in the first process are necessary for patient safety. When you rely on an unknown person in a location that you cannot verify to supply medication, you are putting the health of those that you care for at risk. Legitimate online pharmacies will have a phone number and physical address posted, as well as a way to contact a licensed pharmacist to ask questions. Beware of websites that only list an email address as a method of contact.

Warning Signs

If a pharmacy does not require a prescription from a doctor, a red flag should raise in your mind. Some rogue online pharmacies even ask patients to sign waivers to remove their liability; the presence of a waiver probably means that the website will supply you with medication that could cause harm to your loved one’s health. The incidence of adverse events is higher when prescription medications are obtained from rogue online pharmacies.

Crime and Counterfeiting

People involved in international organized crime have taken an interest in the profits that can be made from selling prescription and counterfeit medication online.

Criminals no longer have to walk the streets to make a transaction, they can wait for unassuming consumers to place their trust in them and take their money in return for dangerous counterfeit medications.

Did you know that the majority of counterfeit medications make their way into the United States via the Internet? When you buy from rogue online pharmacies you could be exposing loved ones to medications that are expired or improperly labeled. The business of creating fake medications and packaging that look real has become very sophisticated; it can be hard to tell the difference.

Pharmacy: Putting Patient Safety First

Given the issues surrounding the large number of rogue online pharmacies and the hazards that they cause to public health, NABP wanted to find a way to enhance patient safety online. NABP became the registry for .pharmacy, a new Top-Level Domain (TLD), like .com or .org, to provide consumers around the world with a means for easily identifying safe online pharmacies. As the official registry for .pharmacy, NABP will only grant the use of .pharmacy to legitimate website operators that adhere to pharmacy laws in the jurisdictions in which they are based and in which their patients and customers reside.

Soon you will have the reassurance of knowing that when you see a URL ending in .pharmacy, you are shopping at a safe online pharmacy. The first set of .pharmacy URLs went live starting March 17, 2015, so be on the lookout and remember the warning signs of rogue online pharmacies in the meantime. Stay safe!

To learn more about safely purchasing prescription medication online, visit


Dr Catizone is the Executive Director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy® (NABP®) and the Secretary of the Association’s Executive Committee.

Dr Catizone graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Pharmacy, with a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy and a Master of Science degree in pharmacy administration. His master’s studies focused on health care policy/planning and the history of pharmacy. He currently serves as a Governor of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) Board of Directors and Chair of the PTCB Certification Council. He is a Past President of the National Pharmacy Manpower Project and the National Conference of Pharmaceutical Organizations (NCPO) as well as a past member of the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Board of Directors. He has also acted as a reviewer on several advisory boards and has provided expert witness testimony and consultation in the areas of pharmacy practice and regulation.

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