Buying and Using Medicine

Get answers to common questions about buying and using medications.

Buy Medicine Online

You may decide to replace a trip to the pharmacy with a visit to an online pharmacy. While there are legitimate online pharmacies, there are also some fraudulent ones that advertise prescription drugs at low prices. Understand the dangers of buying from a fake online pharmacy, identify the warning signs, and find resources to help you safely buy medicine online:

Health and Financial Risks    

Buying 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

It is important to be able 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 e-mails (spam) offering cheap drugs.
  • Does not have a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions.

File a Complaint

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

Resources for Buying Medicine Online

These tools can help you safely buy medicine over the Internet:


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Complain about Medicine and Medical Products

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

Report a Problem

If you think you or someone in your family has 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:

Dietary Supplements

The FDA regulates dietary supplements as a food product. Contact your local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator to file a complaint about dietary supplements.

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.

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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.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy developed these guidelines for disposing of unused medicines:

  • Look for disposal instructions on the medicine's packaging.
  • Ask your pharmacist how to dispose of unused medicine.
  • Check out the FDA guide on how to safely dispose of unused medicine.
  • Bring unused medicine to your community's drug take back day. These events are a way for communities to have one central location to dispose of unused medicines safely.

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Drug Labels and Identifying Medications

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

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

Read detailed information on DailyMed about marketed drugs, including FDA approved labels (package inserts). Search for the medication on the website by name.

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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 market place. 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 Name

You can 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).

E-mail if you have general questions about information in FDA's Electronic Orange Book.

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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:

  • State human service agencies provide direct assistance to people in distress and referrals to other local organizations that may be able to help.
  • Local health centers serve people with limited access to healthcare. Your annual income and family size determines your ability to pay, according to the most recent federal poverty guidelines.
  • Medicare's Prescription Drug Program can provide extra help with the cost of prescription drugs if you're a Medicare beneficiary.
  • The Eldercare Locator can help locate financial resources and programs for seniors.

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Imported Prescription Medicine for Personal Use

Please note: To make sure that an Internet site or pharmacy is a state-licensed pharmacy, is in good standing, and is located in the United States, check with your state board of pharmacy.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers safety information for consumers, regulatory actions, regulatory policies and more on their Importing Prescription Drugs website.

Drug importing requirements:

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