Topic Overview

Buying medicine over the Internet can make life a lot easier. Medicines on the Internet are sometimes cheaper. Your pills are delivered to your door.

Unfortunately, there are many dishonest online pharmacies—and it can be hard to tell the honest ones from the dishonest ones. So you need to be very careful when you're buying medicines online.

How can you safely buy drugs online?

You can safely buy medicine online if you use online pharmacies recommended by the U.S. National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. This organization verifies Internet pharmacies throughout the United States and most Canadian provinces.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has created a website at You can visit this site to find out which online pharmacies are recommended and which aren't.

Don't trust an online pharmacy if:

  • The website doesn't ask you for a prescription.
  • The online pharmacy isn't licensed. In Canada and the U.S., pharmacies are licensed by individual provincial or state governments.
  • The online pharmacy doesn't have a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions.
  • The website isn't "secure." This means that any information you type in—your address, your credit card number—could be read and used by anyone who comes across it. Secure websites use special tools to "encrypt" your information. They turn it into a code that other people can't read. You can tell that a website is secure if the URL (the Web address) begins with "https" rather than just "http."

Why should you worry about online drugs?

You could end up buying pills that hurt rather than help.

The World Health Organization found that more than half of the drugs sold online by places not showing a physical address were fake. Medicines that you buy online from sources that are not regulated can be either too strong or too weak.

Criminals who sell drugs online have one goal: to make money. So they often focus on medicines that are in demand and not available in a lower-cost generic form.

Many fake drugs are expertly packaged. They look like the real thing, but they may have been made under very dirty conditions. And they may contain ingredients like chalk, sugar, and flour instead of the medicine you need. In the worst cases, a fake pill will contain drugs or chemicals that could harm you.

Related Information


Other Works Consulted

  • National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (2011). Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program: Progress Report for State and Federal Regulators. Available online:
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2012). Buying prescription medicine online: A consumer safety guide. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed October 17, 2014.
  • World Health Organization (2010). Medicines: Spurious/falsely-labelled/falsified/counterfeit (SFFC) medicines. Fact Sheet No. 275. World Health Organization. Accessed October 7, 2014.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Theresa O'Young, PharmD - Clinical Pharmacy
Margaret Hetherington, PHM, BsC - Pharmacy

Current as ofNovember 20, 2015

Current as of: November 20, 2015

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Theresa O'Young, PharmD - Clinical Pharmacy & Margaret Hetherington, PHM, BsC - Pharmacy