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. The information below will help you understand the dangers of buying from a fake online pharmacy, identify the warning signs, and find a safe online pharmacy.

Health and Financial Risks    

Buying from fraudulent 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).

Resources for Buying Medicine Online

These resources 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

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:

E-mail if you have general questions about information in this FDA database

Submit Freedom of Information Act requests for more specific information to:

Fax: 1-301-827-9267
Food and Drug Administration
Division of Freedom of Information
Office of Shared Services
Office of Public Information and Library Services
12420 Parklawn Drive, ELEM-1029
Rockville MD 20857

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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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