Which is the safest online pharmacy?
Are online pharmacies safe? And, if so, which one is the safest? If you live in the U.S., the answer to these questions is of grave importance due to the exorbitant drug costs at our local pharmacies. Especially if you are uninsured, you may face the pain of drug prices paid out of pocket. And when you do, chances are you will search online for an affordable option. Armed with knowledge of how to navigate the misinformation and dangerous offerings along the way, you will find safe, effective medication for an affordable price.
Shopping for an Online Pharmacy: Knowledge is Power
- There are safe online pharmacies, both located here in the U.S. and abroad.
- No credentialing authority claims “one” as the safest online pharmacy, but online pharmacy accreditation is the key to finding the safest bunch.
- There are safe Canadian and international online pharmacies.
- There are tens of thousands of rogue pharmacy websites, many of which are highly dangerous.
The safest online pharmacies, domestic or international, are those accredited or recognized by online pharmacy verification programs or associations.
If you decide to buy medication from an online pharmacy, make sure they are vetted by at least one of the groups or government programs listed below.
Recognized online pharmacy safety programs:
- PharmacyChecker Verification Program
- Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA)
- European Online Pharmacy Common Logo
- In the UK, there’s the Internet pharmacy logo scheme.
- National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s (NABP) “.Pharmacy” program
- LegitScript’s Healthcare Merchant Certification
- National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s (NABP) Digital Pharmacy Accreditation, formerly known as Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS)
Independent research shows that consumers receive genuine, safe medication when they buy from accredited online pharmacies. For over a decade, Roger Bate, PhD, an economist affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and his colleagues have tested and compared just over 1,000 prescription drug orders from credentialed pharmacy websites and those sites without credentials. Dr. Bate’s research considered a website “credentialed” if they were verified through one of the following authorities: the PharmacyChecker Verification Program, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), LegitScript, and the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA).
No credentialed online pharmacy was found to sell counterfeit drugs. Of the 368 orders placed with online pharmacies with no accreditation, 6.8% of the medicines were deemed counterfeit or substandard.
How can consumers make sure an online pharmacy is trustworthy?
There are a couple of foolproof ways to ensure your online pharmacy is actually accredited (and therefore trustworthy):
Online pharmacies usually publish an accreditation, verification or membership seal. Look for the seals, but don’t trust them automatically. Rogue pharmacy sites sometimes publish fake accreditation seals! We catch them regularly. When clicked, real seals direct you to a web page hosted on the website of the accrediting organization. Click the seal to ensure its validity. If you are unsure, please do not hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another way to tell if an online pharmacy is accredited is to consult the website of the accreditation organization. In the case of PharmacyChecker, we have a portal/search box in which you can type in the URL of the online pharmacy in question to see if they are accredited by our verification program.
Here are links to verify if the online pharmacy is accredited by CIPA, NABP, or LegitScript:
CIPA (International options)
NABP (U.S. only)
What is a safe online pharmacy?
A safe online pharmacy is a website from which patients can order regulated, safe and effective prescription drugs, which are dispensed by a licensed pharmacist pursuant to a valid prescription.
Safe and effective medications are:
- Produced under GMP (good manufacturing practice) standards
- Dispensed and mailed properly by licensed pharmacies and pharmacists pursuant to a valid prescription from your doctor or other prescriber
- Affordable. Now, that may seem like a strange addition. Let us be clear: A drug is neither safe nor effective if it is not affordable.
There are differing perspectives about what makes an online pharmacy safe. Let’s cover the main ones you’ll run into in your online search for the “end all be all” of safety advice:
The PharmacyChecker Verification Program
PharmacyChecker is unique because it accredits international online pharmacies that sell medications to Americans. While it is legal for pharmacies in many countries to export medicines to customers in other countries, including the U.S., under most circumstances U.S. federal law prohibits the import of a prescription drug for personal use. However, the FDA, which regulates drug importation, including enforcement activities, never seeks criminal action against individuals for personal importation. That leaves a gray area of regulation. According to a 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, about 8% of American adults have imported medications for personal use because they were more affordable.That’s around 20 million people.
Many of you know that the large pharmaceutical companies - “Big Pharma” - don’t want Americans to access those lower drug prices. The drug industry expends considerable energy on public communications that say international online pharmacies are inherently unsafe. They are wrong but, sadly, the FDA appears to be on their side. While you will not be arrested for buying medication from another country, the FDA recommends you not do so because the agency cannot guarantee the safety of personally imported medicines. That blanket warning continues despite the safety and affordability medications sold by accredited online pharmacies.
In other words, if the world’s safest online pharmacy was one that processed prescription orders shipped to American customers internationally, it may not be considered a “safe online pharmacy” by Big Pharma or even the FDA.
For Americans who cannot afford their medications domestically, it is incomparably safer to buy that medication at a price they can afford from an accredited international online pharmacy than to not take their meds at all. In fact, it’s dangerous not to.
“.pharmacy” Verified Websites Program (NABP & LegitScript)
The .Pharmacy Verified Websites Program, operated by the NABP, is a voluntary program that grants online pharmacies (and other websites that relate to pharmacy practice) registration to use “.pharmacy” at the end of their website names (i.e., cvs.pharmacy, walgreens.pharmacy, etc.) In one sense this is a good program, but we believe the program can mislead consumers.
The gist of the program is to make it easy for people to identify that an online pharmacy is safe and legal to use. As noted above, rogue pharmacy websites can include fake accreditation seals. They can’t simply add ".pharmacy” to the end of their domain names, however. To obtain “.pharmacy” an online pharmacy must meet NABP and/or LegitScript standards.
Your local mom-and-pop pharmacy will likely not spring for the fees to join and maintain membership of “.pharmacy.” Safe international online pharmacies that sell medicines to customers in the U.S. are actually not eligible for “.pharmacy.”
Does that mean they are not safe? Not at all.
Your neighborhood pharmacy, for instance, may not sell medication online at all. It is simply a walk-in pharmacy that has a website to help people in the town know more about them. Such pharmacies are probably not interested in paying the fee. That doesn’t make them unsafe.
One reason for the PharmacyChecker Verification Portal is to help people who need to obtain medication from another country find the safest options. If you find that an online pharmacy does not have “.pharmacy” at the end of its web address, but you believe it may otherwise be safe, then using the PharmacyChecker Verification Portal is a great next step.
Why is PharmacyChecker accreditation important? Can it be trusted?
Simply put, PharmacyChecker is important because the lowest drug prices you find on the internet are either marketed by fake operations or legitimate international online pharmacies. PharmacyChecker verifies the legitimacy and licensure of those that meet good pharmacy practice standards. We are an independent company that has stepped up because neither the FDA nor other private credentialing authorities in the U.S.are doing enough to protect you with your wallet in mind. We’ve been in operation for over 17 years and have only seen the price differences between U.S. and Canada and other countries worsen.
Americans are ordering medication online from international sources because they are struggling to afford those available to them at local pharmacies.
Let’s be clear: Americans can and do receive lawfully-manufactured, high quality medication from international online pharmacies. These meds are delivered upon receipt of a valid prescription, often at a lower price than they can find locally.
Here is a sample list of important criteria PharmacyChecker verifies for all online pharmacy applicants:
- Prescription orders dispensed by licensed pharmacies verified by PharmacyChecker
- Requires valid prescription
- Meets website security requirements
- Controlled drugs, such as Vicodin and Xanax, are not sold internationally to the U.S.
- Publishes contact information on website for customer service
- Pharmacist consultation offered to consumers
- Quantities marketed on website restricted to a maximum of 3 months' supply at a time
- Disclosure of pharmacy location to consumer prior to purchase
- Marketing claims checked for accuracy
Our verification process includes methods to ensure that applicant online pharmacies meet the above requirements and, if accredited, they continue to do so. For example, we conduct mystery consumer inquiries to make sure that an online pharmacy applicant definitely requires a valid prescription. Online pharmacies are also checked to ensure that they are not selling controlled drugs and are re-evaluated several times per year for this criteria.
We also verify and reverify licensure of pharmacies located in countries known to have the strongest pharmaceutical and pharmacy regulations, often referred to as “Tier 1 countries,” such as the U.S., Canada and the UK.
Pharmacies outside of Tier 1 countries are subject to rigorous onsite pharmacy inspections and reinspections every 12 to 24 months, and we verify their licenses with the relevant regulatory authorities.
What is the difference between CIPA and PharmacyChecker?
The Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) is a trade association of licensed retail pharmacies that source medications from pharmacies located in and outside of Canada. CIPA has standards that pharmacies must meet to become members of the association. Those standards are similar but not identical to PharmacyChecker Verification Program standards. You can see if a pharmacy is CIPA certified by clicking on the published seal.
Some CIPA members are accredited in the PharmacyChecker Verification Program but many are not. The converse is true as well.
What is the difference between PharmacyChecker and LegitScript and NABP?
LegitScript and the NABP do not certify international online pharmacies that sell medications to U.S. consumers. Online pharmacies certified by LegitScript must meet their standards and comply with laws and regulations of where the pharmacy and the customer are located in the United States.
The NABP efforts in online pharmacy verification and public information outreach are strongly supported or funded by the U.S. pharmacy business community and drug companies. The NABP’s Digital Pharmacy Accreditation, which was formerly known as Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) requires participating pharmacies to meet theNABP standards. LegitScript has also allied itself with the pharmaceutical and U.S. chain pharmacy industries.
According to the FDA, a pharmacy with a NABP seal is safe to use because it meets all of NABP criteria and U.S. state licensing requirements.
What are the biggest dangers for consumers buying drugs online?
There are tens of thousands of websites that sell prescription drugs and only a few hundred are verified for safe pharmacy practice standards. Many are fly-by-night rogue online pharmacy operations with the aim to either steal your sensitive financial information or sell you counterfeit drugs. Others are less egregious but still cannot be viewed as safe online pharmacies.
Common practices among dangerous rogue online pharmacies:
- Does not require a valid prescription to obtain your medication
- Does not provide patient consultations and prescription dispensing by a licensed pharmacist
- Does not dispense prescription medication by a licensed pharmacy
- Does not sell genuine medication
- Does not protect your personal and financial information
One of the biggest red flags is web pharmacies that sell prescription medication without requiring a prescription. You may want to get your medication for a chronic condition, one that you know you must take, without having to go to your doctor for a new prescription. Perhaps you don’t want to pay the copay at your provider’s office or simply don’t want to deal with the trip. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s even more reason not to go!
Heed this warning: it is of the utmost importance that you not try a drug without first obtaining a prescription for that drug.
The drug might not only not help make you better, but it could hurt and even kill you if there are serious side effects.
Even in cases where you have taken the same maintenance medication for years, be warned that no-prescription sites are more likely to sell counterfeit or substandard drugs. Also, these sites likely do not have a pharmacist to consult should you encounter complications.
Buying controlled, addictive medications online
Buying controlled drugs online, meaning addictive prescription drugs, such as opioids, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines, from websites that don’t require prescriptions is very dangerous. This is as much an issue of drug abuse as drug quality and safety.
PharmacyChecker-accredited international online pharmacies do not sell controlled drugs to the U.S.
There are circumstances under which you can buy controlled drugs online, particularly less addictive ones. If you choose to order controlled medications from a pharmacy located in the U.S., then stick to websites certified by LegitScript or the NABP. Some controlled drugs, the most addictive ones like schedule II substances, often cannot be dispensed through mail-order due to state regulations. We recommend checking with your local board of pharmacy for more information.
Learn more about online pharmacy safety
The PharmacyChecker Verification Program was established to help American consumers take back their health and finances. We inspect and monitor international online pharmacies so you can have peace of mind when you shop for cheaper meds online. We also provide a ton of information so you can equip yourself to make the safest online shopping decisions.