Practitioner Updates

Pharmacist’s Corner: Purchasing Medications from Online Pharmacies

Using an online pharmacy may seem more convenient and less costly to pet owners filling a veterinarian’s prescription, but many websites that sell medications are unsafe and unlicensed. Nearly 95% of websites offering prescription-only drugs online operate illegally, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Meanwhile, less than 5% of consumers are aware of tools to help them to find safe online pharmacies.

The NABP keeps a list of websites that they have deemed safe for consumer use at safe pharmacy.

They also offer a list of websites that are not recommended for consumer use. Websites that are on the NABP’s “not recommended” list have been identified as B out of compliance with NABP patient safety and pharmacy practice standards, or applicable law.

These websites often do not require a valid prescription for the sale of prescription-only medications. They also may sell medicine not approved or authorized in the patient’s state/ country and may potentially not have a license to conduct business in that state/country.

There are also safety concerns for the consumer as the medication that is being sold may be expired or damaged, may not be the drug stated on the label, or may not be the stated strength. These unverified websites may result in consumers receiving counterfeit medication that can contain dangerous fillers or unwanted ingredients. Lastly, unsafe websites can also open users up to identity theft and malware on their computer.

Another resource that is available is BeSafeRx. This campaign was developed by the Food and Drug Administration to help consumers safely buy prescription medication online. It also provides resources for healthcare professionals and consumers, including educational handouts.

It is important to raise awareness of the risks associated with buying medication from online pharmacies. 

Safe SignsWarning Signs
A doctor’s prescription is required.A doctor’s prescription is not required.
The pharmacy has a licensed pharmacist on staff.The pharmacy does not have a licensed pharmacist on staff.
The pharmacy has a physical address in The United States.The pharmacy does not have a physical address in The United States.
The pharmacy is licensed by the state board of pharmacy.The pharmacy is not licensed by the state board of pharmacy.
The pharmacy is on the list of the websites deemed safe by the NABP.The pharmacy is not on the list of the websites deemed safe by the NABP.
The website has a “.pharmacy” domain, which indicates it has been verified. The pharmacy offers deep discounts or prices too good to be true.
Listed above are helpful ways to distinguish safe from illegal websites. (Modified from the FDA handout for customers available online at

By Margaret Dangerfield, PharmD
Dr. Dangerfield is a graduate of the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Pharmacy.