The Importance of Using a Safe Online Pharmacy

By Alex Hagans, Pharm.D. Candidate

Have you ever been browsing the internet in your free time doing some online shopping or just casually reading through websites looking for information when, all of a sudden, a pharmacy advertisement pops up promising you a “too good to be true” deal on a certain medication?

Can I trust it?

Is this really what I would pay for this medication?

I really don’t need a prescription order?

These are all common questions that are usually left unanswered and lead to more questions than answers. In this article, I would like to answer these questions and provide insight on how to properly search for trustworthy online pharmacies to ensure that you, as a patient, receive the safest and highest quality medication.


Online pharmacy has been a longstanding operation that has recently become more popular due to safety precautions following the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, more and more patients are considering mail-order medication delivery rather than stepping foot into their primary pharmacy. A common issue, however, is whether or not the pharmacy can be trusted.

According to the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies, approximately 20 new illegal pharmacies pop up on the internet every day. Additionally, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), only about 3% of online pharmacies comply with the U.S. pharmacy laws and pharmacy practice standards. To put this into perspective, NABP has reviewed over 11,500 online pharmacies meaning that approximately 345 online pharmacies are operating under legal standards.

What Are the Risks and How Can I Recognize a Fake Pharmacy?

Medications from a fake online pharmacy may not work correctly or may even be dangerous. Many times, the medication is a false copy of an approved drug and can cause side effects that are not expected or can lead to treatment failure. In addition to the potential harms of fake medications, think about what personal or financial information that you are putting at risk as well.

Warning signs of a fake online pharmacy can be challenging to find as they may provide fake information to make the pharmacy look real. Just as identifying fake online pharmacies can be difficult for the general public, they can also be challenging for healthcare providers. Some helpful tips to identify fake online pharmacies from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include avoiding online pharmacies that:

  • Allow you to buy medications without a prescription
  • Offer significant discounts or cheap prices
  • Ship prescriptions globally
  • State that the medication will be shipped from a foreign country
  • Are located outside of the U.S.
  • Send spam emails, or
  • Are not licensed by a state board of pharmacy in the U.S.

How Can I Find or Identify a Safe Pharmacy?

The easiest way would be to look for the “.pharmacy” at the end of the website URL or link (e.g., Online pharmacies that have been verified by the NABP as legal and safe may include this in their website link.

To go even further, online pharmacies can also apply for the NABP’s Digital Pharmacy Accreditation. This is awarded to online pharmacies that uphold the highest pharmacy standards and quality of healthcare. It is a 3-year long accreditation that represents the pharmacy’s commitment to provide safe pharmacy-related care. Once accredited through NABP, the online pharmacy’s website link will have an added “.pharmacy” domain. If you are concerned about an online pharmacy that does not show this, you may also search for verified and accredited online pharmacies at

Additional tips from the FDA for identifying safe online pharmacies include making sure that they:

  • Require a valid prescription
  • Provide a legitimate physical address in the U.S.
  • Are licensed by the state board of pharmacy in your state and/or in the state that they are operating in, and
  • Have a state-licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions



  • “Digital Pharmacy Accreditation.” National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, 25 Mar. 2021,
  • Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “For the Media.” S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA,


Rx Outreach is a fully licensed and accredited pharmacy located in St. Louis, Missouri. Our pharmacy has been verified and awarded the Digital Pharmacy Accreditation as well as the .pharmacy URL by NABP.

Rx Outreach has the following accreditations:

  • Digital Pharmacy Accreditation from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy
  • Medical Surplus Recovery Organization Accreditation from the MedSurplus Alliance


About the author:

My name is Alex Hagans and I am a 4th-year pharmacy student completing my Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy. I am from a small town in Illinois called Staunton where I graduated from high school, and I am now currently pursuing pharmacy as my career. Aside from work, I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, running or playing soccer outside, playing darts, and building all sorts of music playlists.

My interest in the field of pharmacy sprouted after I obtained my first job as a pharmacy technician at a small, independent-chain pharmacy called Sullivan Drugs of Staunton. Originally, I was unsure of what career path I wanted to pursue; I had no clue. After some time in the pharmacy, I came to love the relationships I formed with patient and our interactions. I also greatly valued the impact that pharmacists had on their patients’ lives and overall well-being.

I am nearing the end of my 5-week internship here at Rx Outreach, and my time here has been nothing short of amazing! The staff are all very nice and welcoming and are always focused on their work to provide the best quality of care to the patients that they serve. Considering that this is an academic experience for me, Rx Outreach has provided me with educational opportunities that weren’t offered in my previous pharmacy internships and this is greatly appreciated! Overall, I love the mission and believe that the staff here deserve much recognition for what they do, especially for their commitment to help the underserved populations.