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Legal to Buy Prescription Drugs Online?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Buying prescription medications online may be a good way to save a nickel, but is it legal to buy these drugs online?

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), "[b]uying controlled substances online without a valid prescription" can potentially land you in prison, and it is a felony to import drugs into the country. Even buying prescription drugs from Canada and importing them into the United States is illegal under federal law.

So is it ever legal to buy these drugs online?

No Buying Without a Prescription

The key difference between a legal drug purchase online and one that could land you in the hoosegow is that you need a prescription for whatever medication you are purchasing.

Common prescription drugs like Vicodin, Oxycontin, and Xanax are all controlled substances under federal law, and purchasing them without a doctor's prescription is essentially participating in an illegal drug deal.

The DEA warns that this prescription must be from a real doctor with whom you have a doctor-patient relationship. "Cyber doctors" who distribute online prescriptions, sight unseen, are not legitimate, and neither are their prescriptions.

Beware Fake Pharmacies

Assuming you have a prescription from a real doctor, you can legally purchase your drugs from a legitimate online pharmacy, although few of those actually exist.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), buying drugs from fake pharmacies can result in you receiving drugs that are either counterfeit or simply being the subject of identity theft and fraud.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) notes that you can identify legal pharmacies by looking for the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS) seal, which is regulated by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). You can verify any online pharmacy with the NABP by using the verifying tool on its website.

To avoid being part of a criminal investigation or getting your identity stolen, here are some tips to follow for legal prescription drug shopping:

  • Make sure you have a prescription from a flesh and blood doctor.
  • Avoid deals that look too good to be true.
  • Verify that the site has VIPPS approval.
  • Only use pharmacies which have physical locations in the United States.
  • Choose a pharmacy that has a state-licensed pharmacist on staff.
  • Verify your pharmacy is licensed by your home state's board of pharmacy and the state where the pharmacy is located.

Remember, the FDA reports that only 3 percent of online pharmacies reviewed by the NABP are legal or legit, so you may be better off heading to your local brick-and-mortar pharmacy.

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