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Are Internet Pharmacies as Safe as Brick-and-Mortar Ones?

August 19, 2020

online pharmacy safety

Online shopping offers an undeniable level of convenience and efficiency, and pharmacies are no exception. Whether you need to fill a one-time prescription or you take medications on a regular basis to manage a chronic illness, it has never been easier to get the prescriptions you need from the comfort and convenience of your own home.

However, ordering prescription drugs online is not the same thing as ordering books or groceries. Your health and even your life may depend on the safety and quality of the medication you're taking, so you have to be absolutely sure that you're filling your prescriptions with a reliable and trustworthy pharmacy.

That holds true whether you visit a brick-and-mortar pharmacy in person or order your medications from an online pharmacy. Just like in the brick-and-mortar world, there are good and bad actors in the online pharmacy space. Here are some of the factors to consider and red flags to keep in mind when looking for a pharmacy — online or off.

The Differences Between Internet and Brick-and-Mortar Pharmacies

The main concern when shopping for prescription medications on the internet is obviously safety. The stakes are much higher when ordering online because you can't check the medication to make sure everything is in order before you pay for it, and in many cases the personal relationship with a trusted pharmacist that so many people rely on just isn't there when you order your medication over the internet for the first time.

With a brick-and-mortar pharmacy, you can walk in, look around, and inspect the pharmacy with your own eyes to make sure everything looks and feels legitimate. You can speak to the pharmacist in person and ask questions or raise any concerns you may have about the medications you're taking and your health.

On the internet, you have to trust that the information the seller is providing is trustworthy and accurate. Without the face to face communication with a pharmacist, you have to rely on the internet pharmacy's customer service department to answer your questions and give you the information you need unless the internet pharmacy provides pharmacist counseling services.

A good internet pharmacy will always make up for the lack of a face to face interaction with its customers with pharmacist counseling by telephone or video and a strong customer service team that gives you the opportunity to speak to a knowledgeable and accessible representative whenever you need one.

In addition to good customer service, there are a number of tools that can actually make internet pharmacies easier to verify, such as online reviews and ratings. In our digital culture, all it can take is a few negative reviews from disappointed and angry customers to sink a business — possibly for good.

This puts more pressure on legitimate internet pharmacies to offer superior service, whereas it can be practically impossible to find out if a brick-and-mortar pharmacy is disappointing its customers or engaging in unsafe or dishonest practices. That's because there's no visible or reliable ratings system for customers to consult before filling a prescription.

When you throw in the fact that more and more Americans are getting their prescriptions from corporate owned pharmacies with little to no oversight and accountability, getting prescriptions from a brick-and-mortar pharmacy is not necessarily a slam dunk when it comes to safety.

The truth is that there are a number of pros and cons to getting prescriptions from both an internet and brick-and-mortar pharmacy. Many people assume that brick-and-mortar pharmacies are always safer, but unfortunately that's not often the case.

Are Internet Pharmacies Safe?

As with any business, the truth is that it depends on the pharmacy website you deal with. Since you can't inspect an internet pharmacy or "kick the tires" like you can with a brick-and-mortar pharmacy, you'll have to do a little extra research and vetting before ordering your prescriptions online.

However, internet based pharmacies should meet and adhere to similar safety and quality standards as an offline pharmacy, so the trick is to know how to spot the bad actors and to keep your standards high and expect the same or higher level of service and quality as you would from a local pharmacy in your neighborhood.

As a consumer, you have the right to know where the medication you're buying comes from, and that they were manufactured legally and comply with the safety and quality standards where they are made and sold from.

Features of a Good Internet Pharmacy

A good way to quickly evaluate an online pharmacy is to look for their contact information and customer service policies. Is there a phone number you can call to speak with a live representative or a licensed pharmacist? Do they make it easy for you to find and contact a representative? If the customer service policies and contact information is difficult to find on the website or if it doesn't exist at all, consider that a red flag.

Other important features of a safe and legitimate online pharmacy include:

  • Require a valid prescription from a licensed physician
  • Offer licensed pharmacist counseling
  • Are clear and transparent about their supply chain practices
  • Secure ordering and checkout process
  • Positive reviews and ratings from real customers
  • Verified business credentials

A good internet pharmacy should offer an exceptional level of security, customer service, and product safety. Always be sure to look for the certification seal of a reputable certifying organization, like the Canadian International Pharmacy Association.

Questionable Pharmacy Warning Signs

One of the biggest red flags for any online retailer, especially a pharmacy, is lack of transparency. You may not be able to find a phone number or customer service department, or a listing for a business address, all of which are things that legitimate businesses willingly share with their customers.

Some of the other typical warning signs include:

  • Offer to sell prescription medications without a prescription from a licensed physician
  • Sell illegal or illicit medications or substances
  • Provide additional bonus pills when ordering
  • Sell low-quality or counterfeit products (this can be difficult to verify just by looking at a website, which is why transparency around their supply chain is especially important)
  • Fail to provide safety information and guidelines for prescription medications
  • Murky or unsecure payment system, especially if you're routed to an unverified third-party site that you don't recognize
  • Do not offer licensed pharmacist counseling

Scammers and illicit websites continue to become more and more sophisticated when it comes to selling their products and reeling in unsuspecting customers. Beware of websites that make offers or claims that sound too good to be true, or that operate in a way that would be considered questionable or even illegal in a brick-and-mortar pharmacy.

Remember that similar rules for safety and quality apply online as well as in the real world, especially when it comes to your health and wellbeing.

When to Buy Your Prescriptions Online

People choose to buy their prescriptions online for a number of valid reasons, from convenience to saving money on expensive prescription drugs, which is a growing concern for millions of American individuals and families.

The prescription drug market and pricing system is very complicated in the United States, and prices on everyday medications for everything from high blood pressure to asthma fluctuate wildly according to a number of different factors beyond the consumer's control.

For example, many people are surprised to learn that prescription drug prices vary depending on where you choose to fill your prescription. Even with insurance, the local CVS near your home or office may charge more for the same prescription than the competing chain or independent pharmacy across town. Even if the price difference isn't significant for a single prescription, it can add up over time, especially for people managing chronic illnesses that require one or more long term medications.

Affordability is another major factor that drives many people to go online to find the prescriptions they can't afford at home due to lack of insurance, high deductibles, and astronomical drug costs. For a growing number of Americans, buying medication online from countries like Canada is the only safe and affordable option available when they can't get the care and medications they need at home.

Why a Brick-and-Mortar Pharmacy Isn't Necessarily a Safer Choice

It's important to keep in mind that filling a prescription at a brick-and-mortar pharmacy is not always 100% safe either. For-profit pharmacies, which includes all of the major corporate chains that operate in the U.S., are under more and more pressure than ever to do more with less — generate more revenue and fill more prescriptions with less pharmacists on staff and less time interacting and consulting with patients.

This can create a dangerous environment where serious or even fatal mistakes can happen. Because there's also an inherent trust factor when you walk into a pharmacy and fill a prescription in person, many consumers don't think to double check their prescriptions or verify the pharmacy's safety track record until something goes wrong.

From mixing up prescriptions due to rushing or overworked staff, to pressuring customers to buy refills that weren't prescribed and that they may not need, brick-and-mortar pharmacies should always be evaluated and vetted with the same critical eye as internet based pharmacies.

Every Consumer Should Expect Quality, Safety From Their Pharmacy

It may sound naive to the ears of American consumers used to a privatized, corporatized, and for-profit healthcare system and prescription drug market, but the truth is that human health is not a commodity, and should not be treated as such, even by for-profit businesses.

That holds especially true for people taking medication to manage chronic or potentially life-threatening illnesses like heart or lung disease. Consumers should be able to trust that their pharmacist is working to meet their needs and that their health is the pharmacy's number one priority.

The best way to get the information you need to make a decision is to ask questions. Regardless of how big or well known a brick-and-mortar pharmacy is, or how slick and impressive an online pharmacy's website might look, you should never feel pressured or rushed when buying your medication, and there should always be someone available to answer any and all of your questions to your satisfaction with every purchase.

Buying Prescription Drugs from a Canadian Internet Pharmacy: Separating Fact from Fiction

As we've established, there are many reasons to be concerned about where you buy your prescriptions, especially when you're shopping online. As many Americans know, Canadian citizens have access to the most of the same medications but at drastically lower prices. From asthma inhalers to statins, Americans can save thousands of dollars every year buying the same medications in Canada.

Due to the fact that the Canadian government regulates the prescription drug market and imposes very high safety and quality standards to ensure product safety, many illicit internet pharmacies try to mislead consumers by posing as Canadian pharmacies.

This can be understandably confusing and frustrating for consumers, but reputable Canadian internet pharmacies follow all of the best practices described above, from requiring a prescription from a licensed medical professional, to offering pharmacist counseling, stellar customer service and a transparent and straightforward ordering and payment process.

In many cases, rogue pharmacies that claim to be Canadian have no connection to Canada or Canadian and American safety and quality standards. In light of the growing affordability crisis crippling millions of Americans at the moment, lawmakers from both political parties are increasingly looking to Canada to offer solutions for struggling individuals and families that can't afford the medications they need.

Given the similarities in language, culture, and safety and quality standards, Canada is a natural and safe alternative when buying prescriptions from an online pharmacy. Online pharmacies like NorthWestPharmacy.com, provide access to Canadian drugs and international ones for the best selection and savings.

Our dedicated customer service team is here to answer all of your questions and to walk you through the entire process of ordering your prescriptions online, especially if you're new to purchasing your medications from a Canadian pharmacy online or international drugstore. For more information, contact us by calling our toll free number 1-866-539-5330 or contact us online.

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