Is it safe to buy your medication online?

The simple answer is YES, but only if you follow some simple guidelines otherwise it can be very dangerous.

The internet has become a popular source to help understand our health issues, with many of us also going online to buy prescription medication. However, many online pharmacies are unregistered, so buying from them is potentially unsafe. Many of us in the UK could be putting our health at risk because we are uncertain on how to check the safety of medicines we buy online.

According to the BBC, a quarter of GPs have reported treating patients who are suffering from side effects after purchasing medicines on the internet. So, if you’re thinking of buying medication online, whether because of convenience, cost or embarrassment – how can you stay safe?

What are the dangers of buying medication online?

Medication, such as Sildenafil for erectile dysfunction, is often sold cheaply online and without a GP prescription or the advice of a pharmacist. Because this medication can be delivered to your door discreetly for such little money, it’s convenient to buy online to save a potentially embarrassing visit to the GP.

This is a massive risk because medication should only be taken under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Their guidance on whether a medication is suitable for you, the dosage, possible side effects, and any harmful reactions with other medications is crucial.

Medication from an unregistered source could also be dangerous to your health because it might be out-of-date, diluted or fake. Falsified medicines may not have passed through the evaluation processes that ensure that a medicine is fit for the EU market.

These medicines could contain ingredients of low quality or in the wrong doses, be deliberately and fraudulently mislabelled with respect to identity or source or have fake packaging, wrong ingredients, or low levels of active ingredients. As a result, these medicines may not work or be harmful.

Taking falsified medicines can have serious consequences. The medicine could leave your disease untreated serving no benefits to you or even make your condition worse. Not knowing what is in the product could lead to unexpected or severe side effects. The falsified medication could cause dangerous interactions with medicines you are already taking.

How do I stay safe when buying medication online?

Problems occur when you try to diagnose your own condition using the internet, then obtain prescription medication online without a prescription. If a medication requires a prescription in the UK, the website supplying the medication is acting illegally.

These are some of the main things to look out for:

  • Always get your medication from a pharmacy or a reputable outlet.
  • Check for the internet pharmacy logo when buying medication online.
  • It's never a good idea to take a prescription medication without a valid prescription. The medication may not be suitable for you and could cause unpleasant side effects or serious health risks.
  • Medications shouldn't be seen as a regular consumer product.
  • When your package arrives, check it. Medication should come in a box with a patient information sheet with instructions on how to take it and information on side effects. If it does not, it’s best not to take it.
  • Check the label – if it says “not suitable for human consumption” then do not take it.

If you choose to buy medication online let your GP know. They may want to monitor your usage or make sure it doesn’t conflict with any other medication you are taking.

Depending on your age, income and health, you may be entitled to free medication, or if you get more than two prescription items a month, you may benefit from a prescription prepayment certificate. This works out at about £2 a week and could save you money – speak to your pharmacist for more information.

Finally, if the reason you’re going online for medication is because you’re embarrassed to talk to your doctor, don’t be. Your GP is there to help you with any aspect of your health, and there’s no need to feel embarrassed or awkward, regardless of what the problem might be- they are used to it.

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Last revised: 7 June 2022