(HealthDay News) — The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers to be careful when buying prescription medication online. While some pharmacy websites operate legally and can offer convenience, privacy, and lower costs, others may be selling unapproved, counterfeit, and unsafe medications.

Many unsafe online pharmacies exist, according to the FDA. These pharmacies offer prescription medications without requiring a prescription and sell drugs at “deeply discounted” prices. These pharmacies may use fake “storefronts” designed to mimic licensed pharmacies. They may imply or say that their medicines come from countries with high safety standards, but the drugs could be made anywhere. The drugs could also be fake or expired.

Patients should be wary if the online pharmacy does not require a doctor’s prescription, the FDA cautioned. Other red flags: The pharmacy is not licensed in the United States or by the state board of pharmacy and does not have a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer questions. Patients should also watch out for medicine that looks different from that dispensed at their usual pharmacy, arrives in damaged packaging, is labeled in a foreign language, has no expiration date, or is expired. A price that seems too good to be true is another warning sign.

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The medications from these pharmacies may have too much or too little of the active ingredients, or they may contain a different active ingredient or a harmful substance. These medications may not only be ineffective; they may also have unexpected interactions with other medications, cause allergic reactions, or have dangerous side effects.

Despite all of these problems, it is still possible to find a safe online pharmacy, according to the FDA. The FDA suggests looking for one that always requires a doctor’s prescription, provides a physical address and telephone number in the United States, and has a licensed pharmacist on staff to answer questions. The online pharmacy should be licensed with a state board of pharmacy. A pharmacy’s license can be verified in the state’s board of pharmacy license database by using the location tool on the FDA BeSafeRx website.

More Information

BeSafeRx: For Health Professionals