Buying medication online — whether it’s a regular prescription or a one-off treatment — is undoubtedly a convenient option. That said, you need to ensure that safety is your top priority. Many online stores selling medications are not, in fact, registered pharmacies, which makes the medication they’re selling potentially fake, unregulated, and unsafe.
Luckily, there are genuine pharmacies out there that can provide a range of legitimate health services — from treatments to expert medical advice — but you should always conduct your own checks before buying medication online. Here’s everything you need to know about finding a genuine online pharmacy.
When to use an online pharmacy
Getting a doctor’s appointment isn’t always easy. Using internet-based health services such as online pharmacies can be a convenient alternative way of receiving your medication and getting professional healthcare advice when you might otherwise be waiting days to see your GP.
The Independent Pharmacy, for example — a fully registered and professional online pharmacy — suggests that their online services can increase access to healthcare for those who would normally struggle. And that’s increasingly important, considering that a 2022 NHS survey revealed that 15% of patients could not make an appointment when they last tried to make one — a sharp rise on the 10% reported in the previous year’s survey.
You should use as online pharmacy for the following reasons:
Processing your prescriptions
Whether you need antibiotics or topical cream, it’s important to get your prescription processed quickly so you can start to feel better as soon as possible. However, if you don’t have time to visit your local pharmacy, this can be a problem — and that’s where online pharmacies come in. If you’ve been given a prescription, a genuine online pharmacy can process this for you and get your medication sent straight to your front door.
Having over-the-counter treatments delivered
If you’re feeling unwell but you’re not in an emergency situation, an online pharmacy can assess your symptoms and suggest an appropriate medication or over-the-counter treatment. In most cases they’ll be able to dispatch and deliver your treatment quickly — often by the next working day — meaning you can start tackling your medical issue right away. And this can all be done from the comfort of your home.
Seeking healthcare advice
Many people forget that they can go to pharmacists for healthcare advice rather than waiting for a doctor’s appointment. Not only can they help diagnose conditions such as common skin complaints, but they’re able to recommend an appropriate treatment. Even if it’s simply advice you require, a legitimate online pharmacy will have a wealth of information to help you, while a medical professional can usually be contacted by phone or live chat.
Unfortunately, however, dishonest opportunists often use people’s vulnerability — and the promise of convenience — as a means to sell their potentially dangerous products. To avoid falling victim to this, you should never use an online pharmacy in any of the following scenarios:
You want cheap medication
Large discounts and bundle deals on medication are almost always too good to be true. If you need to buy medications regularly and you’re worried about cost, it’s best to check if you’re eligible for free prescriptions; if you’re not, don’t be swayed by ultra-cheap medication. Consider why it’s so cheap. Have the ingredients been altered? Is it being sold as something it isn’t? It’s never worth risking your health in order to save a few dollars.
You need a treatment for a self-diagnosed condition
The internet is a great place to learn more about your health, but it also has a downside: there’s been a sharp increase in the number of people self-diagnosing. If you believe that you’re suffering from a particular condition, it’s always best to discuss this with a healthcare professional or your GP (don’t always trust the results of your Google search).
A legitimate online pharmacy will typically conduct a consultation or health check to determine whether a treatment is right for you (particularly if it’s something not usually available over-the-counter); if they don’t, it’s a sign you might be dealing with a faker, and you risk ending up with medication you don’t need — or worse still, that might be harmful.
What are the risks of using a fake online pharmacy?
Out of date medication
Out of date medication can pose serious health risks to individuals who consume them. Such medication may have lost its potency or, in some cases, even become harmful due to chemical changes that occur as it degrades over time. Additionally, taking expired medication can increase the risk of allergic reactions, bacterial infections, and other side effects. To avoid this, it’s essential to purchase medication from a reputable and reliable online pharmacy to ensure that you receive safe and effective medication that is not expired.
When you buy medicine from an untrustworthy site, you never really know the full list of ingredients in each medication. The ingredients may not be manufactured to the same standards as genuine medicine, and may not even contain the correct active ingredient or dosage. Always find a genuine online pharmacy that sources their products from reliable suppliers and follows strict quality control standards.
Fraud and other scams
It’s not just the quality of the medication that you need to be mindful of; another risk of using a fake online pharmacy is financial fraud. Entering your bank details into an unsecure website could result in you being scammed, which might result in financial loss or the theft of your personal data for unlawful purposes. Check the website is secure by looking for a little padlock icon in the address bar (this shows the connection is securely encrypted).
What to look for on a pharmacy website
When buying medication online, it can be easy to fall into the trap of purchasing from an unregistered pharmacy due to the convenience and low prices on offer. However, there are some key telltale signs that can help you spot whether a site is genuine or not.
All pharmacies must be regulated and comply with legislation, which varies between countries. In the UK, for example, anyone selling medicine online must register with the MHRA and display this logo on the website. You can also check their list of registered suppliers if you’re unsure about a particular pharmacy. Look for relevant logos on the site and conduct any further checks to confirm the regulatory standards of the pharmacy.
Is the website poorly designed, full of popups, or with badly written content? This should be enough to convince you to buy your medication elsewhere. A genuine online pharmacy’s website, on the other hand, will be well laid out and professionally designed, with well-written content (free of typos or grammatical inaccuracies). If the site looks like it was cobbled together in an afternoon, steer well clear.
Contact details and company information
On a legitimate site, always look for contact information and details about the pharmacy. If they’re genuine, this should always be easy to find — they’ll have nothing to hide, and in fact they’ll be keen to share information about their experience and expertise. Check if there’s an “about us” page where you can learn more about the pharmacists dispensing the drugs, where the pharmacy is based, and how long they’ve been in business.
It’s important to always be cautious when purchasing medication from online pharmacies. With the rise of counterfeit medication and fraudulent websites, it can be difficult to determine which online pharmacies are legitimate and which are not. However, by following these key tips, you can find genuine online health services that can help you keep your health in check.