The ease of filling a prescription online and the opportunity to compare prices without having to leave home makes internet pharmacies attractive.
According to an Food and Drug Administration survey, 1 in 4 adult U.S. internet consumers have purchased prescription drugs online. Of that group, nearly one-third said they lacked confidence about how to safely purchase medicine from online pharmacies.
Knowing the risks and having the ability to distinguish between legitimate and rogue online pharmacies can help consumers ensure they're getting prescription drugs that are authentic and exactly what the doctor ordered.
According to the FDA, a legitimate online pharmacy will:
Require a valid prescription from your doctor. Provide a physical address and telephone number in the United States. Have a licensed pharmacist available to answer any questions that may arise.
Alternatively, consumers can visit LegitScript.com and simply plug in the url of a site before they make a purchase to find out whether it has been deemed a legitimate pharmacy.
And if the site you're checking isn't on the list, founder John Horton said the LegitScript team will work to verify the pharmacy and respond with a rating usually within 24 hours.
So far, Horton said his company has verified 269 pharmacies, while more than 30,000 other sites have been given a "not legitimate" rating.
Saving money may be tempting, but purchasing drugs from an unverified website can make consumers vulnerable to a number of risks, including financial fraud and counterfeit or substandard drugs, according to the FDA.
Bottom line, Horton said, is for consumers to do their homework.
"If it's shipping to the U.S., make sure it has a U.S. address," he said. "And if they don't require a prescription from a doctor -- run. If they're willing to sell to you, what makes you think they won't cut corners on authenticity?"