In the last few years, we’ve seen the number of online pharmacies soar. The pharmaceutical industry is worth billions worldwide, and a large part of this value lies in online pharmacies.
The arrival and success of online pharmacies are down to a number of factors, not merely that demand for medication is higher than ever, as is our willingness to rely on technology and the internet to provide services.
Buying medication online is quick, convenient and affordable — much more so than collecting your medication from a traditional pharmacy. But are online pharmacies really legit?
This is the real question that everyone wants to know the answer to; should we be relying on online organizations to provide medical care to us, or are we misplacing our trust?
Luckily, there are ways that patients can establish the legitimacy of online pharmacies and identify whether they are safe to use or not.
In the article below, we will delve into the world of online pharmacies, show you how to confirm the authenticity of medicine, and ask — are online pharmacies really as legit as offline ones?
Recommended reading: 3 Common FAQs About Compounding Medication
How do we know whether online pharmacies are legit?
First of all, it’s worth knowing that there are legitimate, trustworthy online pharmacies out there. It’s not all dodgy weight loss or ED pills online — there are some qualified pharmacists on the internet that can prescribe suitable medication for a range of conditions.
You can tell that a supplier is genuine and reliable because they are regulated and certified.
How they are officially regulated varies from country to country. For example, US online pharmacies need to be approved and recognized by NABP (the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. They can do this by joining two verification programs: VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) or LegitScript.
Similarly, an online pharmacy in the UK should be registered with — and overseen by — at least two regulatory bodies: the MHRA (which authorizes websites to sell medicine), the GPhC (which confirms the authenticity of medicine), and sometimes the CQC (an independent body with reviews and regulates health and social care services).
These bodies ensure that the pharmacy adheres to a high level if regulatory standards and is completely safe to buy medication from. Each one performs a number of safety checks that the online pharmacy has to pass before it can be certified as safe and trustworthy.
The main issue with buying medicine online is that there are many medicine sellers on the internet that aren’t regulated. This is because it’s really difficult to stop online pharmacies from popping up everywhere when it’s so easy to set them up without any credentials in the first place.
Unfortunately, as a result, there are illegitimate online pharmacies out there that practice unsafely and irresponsibly.
The dangers of using illegitimate prescribing sites & inauthentic medication
If the medicine site that you’re using doesn’t follow official online pharmacy standards and isn’t registered with a governing body, it can be very risky to use. This is because these illegitimate prescribing sites provide unregulated medicine, which can be dangerous for a number of reasons.
Unfortunately, a large number of unsafe medicine sites do violate safe pharmacy practices and laws.
For example, the medicine you receive may not even be the medicine you think you have purchased. It might look the same, but there’s no guarantee that it is authentic medication because there’s no governing body regulating the medicine site and its products.
Illegitimate prescribing sites can — and do — send out the wrong drugs entirely, counterfeit drugs, or “cut” the medication with other substances to turn a higher profit. This can lead to the buyer taking completely the wrong medication, low-quality medication, or the wrong dosage — which can be harmful and even life-threatening.
Even if the medicine you receive is as advertised, there are other risks to consider. If you are using an illegal prescribing site, the product may legitimately be the one you expected, but you won’t know anything about how it was stored and supplied. This medication could be damaged, outdated, tampered with, or contaminated, and you’ll never have any idea because it wasn’t regulated in the right way to prove this. Incorrect handling and storage can cause even legitimate medicine to become unsafe — factors like temperature can impact the effectiveness of medication.
How to check the legitimacy of an online pharmacy
Many people don’t know how to tell whether or not they’re using a legitimate online pharmacy service. In fact, 83% of people don’t know how to check whether a site selling medicine is safe and legitimate.
If you want to buy medicine online but you’re worried about whether the online pharmacy you’re thinking of using, there are a few ways that you can check it is safe and legitimate.
Clearly displayed regulatory logos and stickers
Depending on the country you’re buying medication from, you can check whether they comply with national online pharmacy health and safety criteria. For example, here are the logos to look for in the UK (the MHRA, GPhC, and CQC respectively):
A safe online pharmacy will display the regulatory bodies’ logo; it’s a clear sign that they adhere to a recognized quality assurance policy and are a safe option for buying medication.
If you can’t find any regulatory body logos on the website, you can also check here by inputting the pharmacist’s site address.
Customer reviews (or a lack of) are normally a good way to check that an online pharmacy is legit. A trustworthy and established pharmacy should have a decent number of customer reviews either recommending the products or commenting on how they have found using them. People feel strongly about healthcare, so will tend to leave a review — particularly if the medication they have bought has worked really well for them, or conversely, made their condition worse.
Warning bells should go off if you don’t see any reviews at all. Similarly, if the reviews look spammy or fake, you should avoid this site altogether.
If you’re struggling to find any contact details on the online pharmacy’s website, this is a clear sign that the business is not legit.
Any trustworthy, legit online pharmacy will have clear contact details on their site so that you can speak to a medical professional if you have any questions or concerns — whether it’s about the delivery service or the medication itself.
If you can’t see contact details listed anywhere on the website, stay away.
No medical information or consultation needed to buy medication
If you aren’t being asked for any medical information, or aren’t given the option of speaking to a pharmacist or medical professional before you buy any medication, this is a clear sign of an online pharmacy that isn’t legit.
A trustworthy online company should be asking you the same questions as a doctor would before prescribing you medication, so you should always have a consultation or fill out a questionnaire before you are able to buy any medication.
Unusual sales practices and language
If the website appears to be selling the medication that you need at a ridiculously low price in comparison to other pharmacies, offers deals for buying in excessive bulk, or offers deals for free trials, then the chances are that it’s not a legit online pharmacy selling authentic medicine.
Medicine sites that only want to make a profit rather than help people will use language that is super salesy and spammy. Their focus will be on selling the medication rather than offering advice and guidance, and you won’t be able to find any (or very little) important medical information about the products or their side effects.
A regulated online pharmacy is as reliable as an offline one, and can be a useful alternative for buying prescription medication in a way that is safe, affordable and convenient.
The important thing to remember is that the online pharmacy must be regulated by governing bodies; as long as you’re using one of these sites, then you’ll get the medication expected.
Don’t take any chances by buying medication from rogue, unregulated pharmacists where the risk is high — your health should be your priority, rather than scouting out a good online deal.