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If I order a brand-name medication from an online pharmacy, will they substitute it with a generic?

Answered by Gabriel Levitt, MA | Posted August 24, 2017

In most instances, when ordering medication from an online pharmacy verified by PharmacyChecker, you will receive the brand version of the medication that you selected during the ordering process. However, as discussed below, this may not be true if you purchase medications online from a Canadian pharmacy that is not verified or continually monitored by a certification group like PharmacyChecker.com.

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How it works in the United States

Pharmacists in the U.S. routinely provide a generic substitution for brand-name, prescription medications. While this is a common practice in the United States, the same may not be true for international online pharmacies. When ordering medication through a PharmacyChecker-verified online pharmacy, you have the choice — based on your prescriber's prescription of course—whether to order the brand or a less-expensive, generic version. 

How it works in the PharmacyChecker Verification Program

Each online pharmacy in the PharmacyChecker Verification Program lists available medications and prices, clearly marked as brand or generic, to assist the consumer during the ordering process. If a customer has ordered a brand-name drug, our program standards prohibit online pharmacies from substituting a generic version for that brand-name drug without the consent of the customer when dispensing a prescription internationally, unless the pharmacy is required to do so by law.

For added transparency, we also require that the online pharmacy disclose the country from which the product will be dispensed prior to the completion of your transaction to ensure you are receiving the product of your choice. For example, if you have a prescription for Lipitor and place an order for the Canadian version of Lipitor, the pharmacy must inform you if that product cannot be dispensed. They must consult you before substituting any generic version or even a brand version from a country other than Canada.

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Consumer Support

If you have any questions about the product, you can contact the pharmacist at your chosen PharmacyChecker-verified online pharmacy for consultation. Our standards require PharmacyChecker-verified online pharmacies to ensure consumer access to a pharmacist for consultation. We also require that they clearly publish a working telephone number and valid mailing address on their website. Most members have a "Contact Us" section, which typically includes their business hours as well. Additionally, some online pharmacies have a "Live Chat" option that allows you to ask questions while on the pharmacy's website. 

Keep in mind that the online pharmacy may only dispense medications upon receipt of a valid prescription. The order you place online requires receipt of the prescription, and the pharmacist may only dispense up to a three-month's supply of medication (authorized by the prescriber) and may not dispense controlled substances—as defined by U.S. law—to consumers in the U.S. 

Online Pharmacies Not Verified by PharmacyChecker

Most online pharmacies do not meet the PharmacyChecker Verification Program standards, and most of the tens of thousands of online pharmacies are not certified by any credentialing group. Unfortunately, too many online pharmacies, commonly referred to as rogue online pharmacies, illegally and unethically medication, including controlled substances (addictive drugs), do not process orders through licensed pharmacies, do not require a valid prescription or any prescription at all, intentionally sell counterfeit or adulterated medication, do not safeguard patients' financial and health information, and/or steal people's identities.

To read more about the important role credentialing plays in validating online pharmacy practices and to learn about the PharmacyChecker Verification Program, click here.

You may also be interested in this former Ask PC Answer: How come most online pharmacies are not verified by PharmacyChecker.com?

Updated November 26, 2019

Compare drug prices among reputable online pharmacies

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