Online Pharmacies: What You Need to Know

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Types of Online Pharmacies


Most legitimate online pharmacies require you to provide a prescription obtained from an in-person examination with your doctor. Prices from these pharmacies are often lower than those from pharmacies that offer or accept prescriptions based on remote consultations. Pharmacies in this category can include major U.S. national chains; neighborhood pharmacies in the U.S. and Canada, and some in Australia, India, Israel, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom; large domestic and international mail-order prescription fulfillment centers. Most pharmacies with a traditional prescription requirement carry the full stock of prescription drugs you would find in your neighborhood pharmacy, except legitimate online pharmacies will not sell controlled drugs internationally.

Remote Consultation

You may be looking to obtain a prescription online, rather than in person with a doctor. Websites offering this service, generally known as online consultation pharmacies, remote consulting pharmacies, or prescribing pharmacies, work with physicians who review a patient’s self-reported medical history and then write a prescription if deemed appropriate but many are not adequately safeguarding their customers’ health. Their focus is usually on "lifestyle" drugs that are non-addictive and less likely to require physician monitoring. In the past, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued statements asserting that remote consultations are a substandard medical practice when there is no prior doctor-patient relationship, one established by an in-person physical exam. However, several popular health insurance programs now offer such services, ones that follow high standards of what is referred to as telemedicine. Furthermore, a Mayo Clinic study found that remote consultations done properly for erectile dysfunction are as safe as or safer than traditional medical consultations. urges consumers to avoid most pharmacy websites that offer online medical consultations towards the issuance of a new prescription because such sites are usually less trustworthy than sites requiring a prescription written by a doctor you have seen in person. U.S. states have different laws on what constitutes a valid doctor-patient medical consultation. Many states do not prohibit remote medical consultations as a basis for prescribing while a handful of states do. Two states have passed laws or granted express permissions that are directly supportive of remote medical consultations. In 2009, it became expressly legal in Hawaii for a doctor to prescribe non-controlled drugs based on a remote medical consultation, as long as the consultation is conducted in real-time, such as by phone or video conference. The State of Utah has granted express permission for certain companies to offer remote consultation for prescribing a limited number of (mostly lifestyle) non-controlled prescription drugs.

Except where expressly permitted by law in the U.S., the PharmacyChecker Verification Program does not approve remote consultation sites. Additionally, federal law prohibits remote consultations as a basis for prescribing controlled substances.

No-Prescription Required! Avoid all of these pharmacies…

Some rogue websites will sell you prescription medication without requiring any prescription at all, which can be extremely dangerous. Ordering from such sites isn’t only risky to your health, but could lead to unauthorized use of your credit card or, even worse, identity theft. For more information, read the section about rogue online pharmacies.

Range of Medications Sold By Online Pharmacies

Not all online pharmacies sell the broad range of prescription drugs that you would expect to find in your neighborhood pharmacy. Their product range typically falls into one of the following categories:

  • "Full" range of medication, including prescription and over-the-counter products, as well as testing supplies and other health and beauty products just as you would find in a large pharmacy.
  • "Over 500 drugs" includes almost all prescription medication sold at your neighborhood pharmacy.
  • "Between 250-499 drugs" covering those medications representing the majority of prescription sales.
  • "Popular" medications, the 10 to 50 top-selling prescription drugs.
  • "Lifestyle" medications, such as those used for sexual enhancement, hair growth, contraception, weight loss, herpes, and smoking cessation.
  • "Specialized" medications for a single purpose, such as for pain, or specific medical conditions.