Can You Save Money Using an Online Pharmacy?

If you’ve ever considered using an online pharmacy, your goal is probably to save money. Sure, online pharmacies may tout the fact that they’re convenient – no driving out to get your medicine. They may brag that they’re private – nobody overhearing your discussions about your gout with the pharmacist. But obviously, what draws most people to an online pharmacy is the opportunity to save money. So, can you?

Yes. And, no. That is, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can lose money, too. There are plenty of bad players in the online pharmaceutical industry, and I’m not just talking about the heads of pharmaceutical companies who overprice drugs.

In fact, if you pick the wrong company, one that is actually a website run by criminals, you might send money and get nothing in return — or worse, be sent an incorrect dosage by an incompetent non-pharmacist. Or even worse, you could be given counterfeit medicine in hopes that you won’t notice the difference and will continue to use the website’s services. You could theoretically wind up with far worse health and financial problems than you have now if you use the wrong online pharmacy.

But nobody’s trying to be an alarmist here. There are a lot of very reputable online pharmacies. So if you’re thinking of using one for the first time, here are three things you need to know:

You may save money, and you may not.

It’s hard to say how much you might save, unfortunately. Every drug is priced differently, of course, and the costs of drugs can vary wildly, even in the same city, whether you’re using an online pharmacy or a conventional pharmacy in your community. The best way to save money on any medication is to comparison shop – extensively – at all pharmacies, online and off.

But most people don’t do that. Last year, a Consumer Reports poll of 1,037 American adults found that only 17% of them, when faced with a high prescription cost, comparison shopped for a lower price. That’s a huge mistake. Not only might you find a cheaper product somewhere else, you may find a cheaper medication simply by asking your pharmacist if they can offer you a discount. According to Consumer Reports, some pharmacies, due to agreements with drug companies, aren’t allowed to offer you a cheaper price — unless you ask.

And you really need to be smart about comparison shopping. Mail-order pharmacies have become in vogue in recent years. Your health insurer likely touts one, reminding you that you can get your medication easily and without the risk of using an online pharmacy you know nothing about. That latter point is true enough, but over and over again, industry experts have pointed out that sometimes the brick and mortar pharmacy will beat the prices of a mail-order pharmacy. Again, if you want the best price, it all comes down to be willing to look for it.

Find somewhere safe.

This is obvious, and easy to say. But how do you do it?

If you don’t trust an online pharmacy — or even if you do, but you still want to confirm your beliefs — there are a few websites you can visit to check up on its credibility:

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has a website with some fairly comprehensive information on online pharmacies. For instance, they keep a list of websites and URLs that they don’t recommend.

The NABP also has a website, Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS), which has a lengthy list of safe online pharmacies that meets state licensure requirements as well as other criteria that the association requires. But the list seems to be incomplete, at least as the time of this writing. For instance, CVS Pharmacy is listed, as is Rite-Aid, but not Walgreen’s or Walmart, which are also legitimate and highly reputable pharmacies.

If you’re an American who wants to buy your medicine from a Canadian pharmacy, because you know you can save money doing so (some reports have suggested you can cut almost half of your costs), technically, the law is not on your side. And yet it seems everyone, including some American city and state governments, have bought or are buying drugs from Canadian pharmacies.

If that interests you, and if you have a Canadian pharmacy in mind, check out the website of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, where you can type in the URL and learn if it’s a certified, legitimate Canadian online pharmacy. And one reason you should definitely check out this website is that criminals around the world know that Americans rightfully trust Canadian pharmacies, which deservedly have a good reputation in the United States. That’s why many crooks and shady businesses halfway around the world have put up online pharmaceutical websites that look as if they’re based out of Canada.

Make sure you follow the rules of the road.

There are nuances you’ll want to be aware of if you use an online pharmacy. Some of these you probably wouldn’t even consider doing — but just to be safe, we’ll outline some definite no-nos.

  • Don’t try to buy prescriptions without sending in a prescription. In fact, if the pharmacy doesn’t require one, it probably isn’t a real pharmacy.
  • Along those lines, don’t buy any controlled substances, like painkillers or sedatives, that haven’t been prescribed to you by a licensed physician, in person. If you do, you could be running afoul of the law.
  • Also along those lines, don’t buy any narcotics or controlled substances, like painkillers or sedatives, from another country, even if you do have a prescription. Ordering your high blood pressure medicine from another country is fine (the U.S. government may not love it, but they don’t forbid it). But you aren’t allowed to order, say, Valium from an online pharmacy, even if you have a prescription from a licensed physician. And if an online pharmacy says they will send a narcotic to you and, hey, no worries, you don’t need a prescription, it probably isn’t a pharmacy you can trust. Ethical online pharmacies are very familiar with American laws and have no desire to break them.
  • Don’t buy any prescription drugs from another country that are legal there but not FDA-approved; that’s also illegal. Your prosecutor may think that was a clever workaround, but he or she still may go after you, and you don’t want to be in the position of hoping your prison has a good pharmacy.

So let’s wrap this up. Finding a good online pharmacy, like choosing a doctor or selecting virtually anything else, takes some time and research. But searching for a good online pharmacy may be worth your time, especially if, before you put your medicine in your mouth, you’re stuck paying through the nose.

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