Buying and Using Medicine

Get answers to common questions about buying and using medications.

Help with Prescription Drug Costs

If you're looking for help paying for your prescriptions, there are a number of local and federal agencies and programs you can contact:

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Buy Medicine Online

If you’re busy or can’t physically get to a store, using an online pharmacy may be a good solution. But before you do, review the website carefully. Some sites that offer prescription drugs or other medical products at low prices may be fraudulent. Consider using only U.S. -based pharmacies licensed by a state’s board of pharmacy.

Health and Financial Risk of Fake Online Pharmacies

Buying medications from fake online pharmacies can be dangerous, or even deadly. It can also hurt your wallet.

  • You could receive counterfeit or substandard drugs.
  • Slight differences in your medicine can make a big difference and cause further health complications.
  • You could put your personal and financial information at risk.

Warning Signs of Fake Online Pharmacies

Learn how to identify the warning signs of a fake online pharmacy. You should be suspicious if an online pharmacy:

  • Allows you to buy medication without a prescription from your doctor
  • Offers medications at deep discounts that seem too good to be true
  • Is not licensed and has no physical address in the U.S.
  • Sends unsolicited email (spam) offering cheap drugs
  • Does not have a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions

Resources for Safely Buying Medicine Online

Use these tools to help you safely buy medicine over the internet:

  

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Complaints about Medicine and Medical Products

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) manages consumer complaints about medicines, dietary supplements, and medical devices.

If you or someone in your family had an adverse reaction to a medical product:

  • Call 911 if you are experiencing an emergency
  • Report an adverse reaction to a medication or other medical product:

Pet Medication Problems

Some dogs or cats may have adverse reaction to medication or problems with a medical device. You have several options:

File a Complaint About an Online Pharmacy

If you suspect an online pharmacy is fake, report it to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Tracking Potentially Dangerous Medication

The FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS) database tracks information from reports about problems associated with medical products. The FDA releases quarterly reports based on information from FAERS to help medical professionals and the public learn about potential safety issues with specific medical products.

Dietary Supplements

The FDA regulates dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbs as food products.

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Dispose of Unused Medicines Safely

Medicines can be harmful to you, your children, or pets if they're not used and disposed of properly.

Use these guidelines for disposing of unused medicines: 

  • Check out the FDA guide on how to safely dispose of unused medicine.
  • Look for disposal instructions on the medicine's packaging.
  • Ask your pharmacist how to dispose of unused medicine.
  • Learn about your community's drug take back day and search for a nearby disposal location to bring your unused medicine for disposal. 

Contact the FDA's toll free numbers (855) 543-3784, or (301) 796-3400 or email druginfo@fda.hhs.gov for more information. 

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Drug Labels and Identifying Medications

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates prescription drugs and over-the-counter (non-prescription) drug labeling. 

Learn How to Read Drug Labels

Identify Your Medicine

  • Search drug images at Pillbox to identify medicine that is out of its labeled container.

Find out about Your Medicine

  • Look up generic or brand name medications and find their directions, warnings, and side effects on DailyMed

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Find the Generic Equivalent to a Brand Name Prescription Drug

The difference between generic drugs and brand names (non-generic) is based on several factors:

  • Pill size
  • Pill color
  • Inactive ingredients may vary from brand name

By FDA standards, generic drugs have met the same rigid standards as brand name drugs such as active ingredient, dosage form, and strength. Generics often cost less than non-generic drugs because of the cost associated with bringing a new drug to the marketplace. Developing a new brand name drug requires clinical trials, and advertising budgets to build awareness about a product. Because generic medications are cheaper does not mean they are less effective.

Learn more about generic drugs.

Search For Drug Names

Use the Electronic Orange Book to find FDA-approved drugs and their generic equivalents. Search by active ingredient, proprietary (trade) name, applicant holder, or applicant number.

To find the generic match to your medication:

  • Visit the Electronic Orange Book and search by the proprietary (trade) name. This determines the ingredients.
  • Next, use the Ingredient Search for all approved products that contain the ingredient(s).

Email druginfo@cder.fda.gov if you have general questions about information in FDA's Electronic Orange Book.

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Imported Prescription Medicine for Personal Use

In most cases, it is illegal to ship or mail a prescription medication to the U.S. for personal use because drugs in other countries have not been properly evaluated or approved by the FDA.

Bringing Medication into the U.S.

Bringing Your Medications into a Foreign Country

Before Your Trip

  • Check the website of the U.S. Embassy or consulate located in the country you are traveling to, or contact them by phone to learn more about that foreign government’s policy.
  • Check the website of the foreign country you will be visiting under the travelers or visitors section for guidance or restrictions on the importing of medication or medical devices for personal use.
  • You can also contact the foreign country’s consulate located in the U.S. and closest to your state.

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Last Updated: June 19, 2017

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