Online pharmacies are convenient, but is yours legitimate?

online pharmaciesCC: Freestocks.org at Unsplash

Online pharmacies provide all kinds of patients with convenience. Some may have mobility issues that make accessing a pharmacy challenging. For others, collecting certain medications could feel embarrassing. Whatever your reasons for choosing online pharmacies, it’s likely this is an area of the Internet you’re very grateful for.

As empowering as online pharmacies are, one study from the UK suggests many people don’t know how to identify one. A rapid search via Google or Yahoo isn’t enough to keep yourself safe. In the interests of protecting your health, we’re going to cover how to find a digital pharmacy, why doing so is important, and when to check in with your offline physician.

How do you know which online pharmacies are fakes?

The good news is, buying your medications online can be safe. The bad news is, there are lots of illegal sites out there waiting to catch you off-guard.

Much like the faux bank sites that phish for your financial details, fake online pharmacies are incredibly harmful. So, how do you identify a real one?


According to the FDA, online pharmacies with the following traits may be rogue:

  • They don’t offer a way for you to speak with a U.S. accredited pharmacist.
  • You can buy prescription drugs without a prescription.
  • The prices seem startlingly low.
  • After signing up, they start sending emails with discounts on medicines.
  • They provide worldwide shipping.
  • They’re based in another country and ship to the U.S. – possibly illegally.

What are the harms of using these pharmacies?

In the absence of FDA regulation or the guidance of a U.S. accredited pharmacist, there’s no way of telling if the drugs you’re buying are real. This could lead to two harmful scenarios. First, you may be purchasing dud drugs. In some cases, this won’t result in significant harm. But if you’re using an online pharmacy for the convenience of buying your blood pressure meds, you’re en-route to trouble.

Second, the dose of the drug you’re buying could be much smaller or much larger. In the case that they’re much smaller, any pharmacist or physician who treats you in a clinical setting may inadvertently cause harm because they’re unaware of your true dosing. If they’re much larger, you could overdose or subject yourself to toxic side effects. Certain antibiotics are either ototoxic (harmful to your ears) or nephrotoxic (harmful to your kidneys) and so taking a larger-than-advisable dose causes significant and longlasting damage.

Finally, there’s always a chance that the drugs you’re buying contain harmful ingredients. Some harmful ingredients have the potential to affect anyone who takes them. Others may interact with sensitive ongoing medications, such as insulin or warfarin. In these cases, ordering from an online pharmacy outside of your physician’s guidance may become fatal.

If you’ve found a legitimate online pharmacy, when should you check in with your physician?

Always tell your physician when you choose to use an online pharmacy. They’ll appreciate the communication and it gives them a chance to contact you when your medication review is due.

You should also contact your offline physician if you notice any side-effects or if you feel as though you need to take more of your drugs than normal. This is especially important when you’re taking painkillers or sleeping tablets.

Finally, if you have any questions about your medications, contact either your physician or a pharmacist. But above all, make sure you’re using a genuine online pharmacy first.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.