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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Online and Mail-Order Medicine: How to Buy Safely

By Kara Mayer Robinson
WebMD Feature

You know you can save time and money when you buy medicine online or through a mail-order pharmacy, but still you wonder: Is the seller legit and are the drugs safe?

Follow these steps to make sure you're getting a good deal.

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No. 1. Be wary of a super-bargain.

"If it's too good to be true, it probably is," says Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). That's a group that encourages safety standards for pharmacies.

An extremely low price can be a sign that there's something fishy going on. For example, if you normally pay $100 for your medicine and you can get it for $5, be careful. It could mean the drugs are sold outside the U.S. and aren't approved by the FDA.

No. 2. Check for the VIPPS seal.

When you go to a pharmacy's web site, look for a seal that says VIPPS. It stands for "Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites."

If it's there, it means the site was screened and approved by the NABP. 

No. 3. Look for "dot pharmacy" in the address.

If an online pharmacy has ".pharmacy" at the end of its web address, it's OK to buy medicine there. Only outfits that follow the law are allowed to use it.

No. 4. Make sure it's licensed and based in the U.S.

Your online or mail-order pharmacy should be located in this country. Check if it's licensed or registered by the state where it's based. To find out, go to the web site of the NABP.

You can also look for licensing information on the online pharmacy's web site. "If they don't list it, that's a warning sign," Catizone says.

No. 5. Check that it has a pharmacist.

You should be able to talk with one on the phone, by email, or online, says Laura E. Knockel, PharmD, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Iowa.

Look for a 1-800 number. Call the pharmacist if you have any questions, even a small one.

Knockel suggests you fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy, if possible. You'll get to know your pharmacist, and it'll be easier to spot problems, like drugs you can't take together.

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