Online Pharmacies: Budget Stretcher or Big Danger

April 23, 2013
Tips from the Better Business Bureau of the South Plains
3333 66th St.  Lubbock, TX  79413-5711

OnlinePharmacies:  Budget Stretcher or BigDanger?

Whether you have coverage under a comprehensive policy orfend for yourself, whether you’re covered under Medicaid or Medicare, whetheryou’re healthy or sick, paying for medications crosses everyone’s path sooneror later.  No matter how we might feelabout the future of health insurance, the truth is that prescriptionmedications – particularly name brand meds with no generic counterpart – areexpensive, and for those taking multiple prescriptions over months or years,the costs of those medications can be significant. 


An alternative to your local pharmacy?  Online suppliers.  Dozens of websites – some American, many not– sprang into life over the past 15 years or so promising to lower the overallcosts of filling prescriptions.  Besidesthe cost, these sites offer to deliver medicines direct to your door, which canbe attractive to shut-ins or those who find traveling difficult for anyreason.  There’s an anonymity that goesalong with dealing with online pharmacies; embarrassing questions about certainmedications can be answered by disembodied pharmacists without the need forpink cheeks.  For all the advertisedadvantages, and even years down the road from their humble beginnings, a lot ofquestions remain about the wisdom of dealing with cyber-drug stores, and youshould ask pointed questions before you place your order.


  1.  Where is the physical location of the pharmacy?  Whether an online supplier is located in Canada or China, the exact location of the pharmacy matters.  If you’re looking at a site outside of the U. S., the usual FDA requirements on the manufacture of the drugs don’t apply.  While the basic formula will be the same, the quality controls of the factory may not.  Even some incidental chemicals used in the process may be substituted for others.  Whether or not those substitutions will have any effect on the finished product is anyone’s guess.
  2. What are the chances harmful drug interactions?  Your prescriptions should be coming from your regular doctor.  Some online sites offer consultations with online pharmacists (and sometimes even doctors) who may offer to make changes to your order.  You should always get the approval of your physician before taking new or different drugs, and some of the same aspects that make dealing with an online pharmacist attractive may be dangerous.  Can you really trust  that anyone online is exactly who they say they are?
  3. Is the pharmacy asking too many questions?  We’d certainly expect a degree of security when dealing with an online pharmacy, especially when ordering controlled substances, and no one would deny a seller the necessary identity confirmation to make sure the patient, doctor and prescription are valid.  How much info is too much?  In an environment where we’d expect to need to prove who we are, we want to be sure not to give away information that could result in our bank accounts being hacked or our identities being stolen or replicated – and, since we’re often talking about foreign operators, the risk is magnified.  The data on your driver’s license should be enough to satisfy most online sellers.  Where payment is concerned, look for sites that accept PayPal or another secured online payment service that does not give the seller access to your account data.
  4. What security protects your account data?  Obviously, the pharmacy expects to be paid.  What security is in place for your credit card info?  Does the site allow you to pay through a double-blind service like PayPal?  Reputable vendors have strong security in place for websites, and they aren’t shy about promoting which security software they use to protect customers.  Make sure that these programs are valid and that the user certificates are up to date for the pharmacy you’re using before you place an order.
  5. Can you test the water?  Before you place a full order with the pharmacy, check to see if it’s possible to place a smaller order first as a test.  That way, you can judge the delivery time and dependability of the site without investing a lot of money or entire list of meds.
  6. What does the site’s BBB record look like?  Unfortunately, Better Business Bureaus don’t review websites outside of the United States and Canada and these pharmacies may include operations well outside those boundaries.  If you can’t find a report at, search for the site by name and look for consumer complaints or other posts.  While there’s still a chance that shills would pump up a website’s reputation, displeased customers are notoriously vocal online.