Buying ED Drugs Online: What’s the Risk?

"You can get hard without expensive prescription drugs that have dangerous side effects!"

It's a familiar claim among sellers of online erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs -- and there are a lot of them. A search for "buy erectile dysfunction drugs" brings up nearly 22 million web sites.

On these sites, you can order medications like Cialis (tadalafil), Levitra and Staxyn (vardenafil), Stendra (avanafil), and Viagra (sildenafil) without a prescription. Or, you can get a "natural" herbal remedy that promises to give you the same results. Often these drugs cost far less than they would at your local pharmacy. Buying online also lets you bypass the embarrassment of having to discuss your erection problems with a doctor.

But are ED drugs purchased online safe? Experts say think twice before you buy.

The Truth About ED Drugs Sold Online

The erectile dysfunction drugs and herbal remedies you buy online aren't always what they seem. An FDA investigation found that more than one-third of "dietary supplements" sold for ED actually contained prescription drugs, including sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. Some ED drugs sold online contained entirely different medicines, such as the antibiotic metronidazole and the fertility drug clomiphene.

Even if a drug contains the right medicine, it may not be the right dosage. When samples of 100-milligram Viagra tablets purchased online were tested, only 10% were even close to the advertised strength.

When you buy from an unknown company, you run the risk of getting counterfeit medicines. By some estimates, more than half of all ED drugs sold online are fakes. Some of these drugs include ingredients you wouldn't want to put in your body -- things like talcum powder, paint, and printer ink.

The FDA warns of several products in particular that have contained potentially harmful or undeclared ingredients. Included among them are

  • 4EVERON
  • Actra-Rx
  • Actra-Sx
  • Adam Free
  • Blue Steel
  • Energy Max
  • Erextra
  • Hero
  • HS Joy of Love
  • Lady Shangai
  • Libidus
  • Liviro3
  • Lycium Barbarum L.
  • Nasutra
  • Naturalë Super Plus
  • NaturalUp
  • Neophase
  • Rhino V Max
  • Shangai Regular, also marketed as Shangai Chaojimengnan
  • Shangai Ultra
  • Shangai Ultra X
  • Strong Testis
  • Super Shangai
  • True Man
  • V.Max
  • Vigor-25
  • Xiadafil VIP tablets (Lots 6K029 and 6K209-SEI only)
  • Yilishen
  • Zimaxx

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Health Risks of Online Drugs

Erectile dysfunction drugs such as Cialis, Levitra, Staxyn, Stendra, and Viagra work by increasing blood flow to the penis. Just like any other medicine, these drugs can have side effects.

A real drug masquerading as an herbal remedy can be dangerous -- even life-threatening. Take the drug sildenafil, which the FDA says is hidden in some natural ED treatments sold online; if you're already using nitrates for heart disease, sildenafil can lead to a dangerous drop in blood pressure. In 2008, 150 people in Singapore were hospitalized for low blood pressure after taking ED drugs. Doctors discovered that the drugs actually contained a large dose of the diabetes medicine, glyburide.

ED drugs can be especially dangerous for people with certain conditions, especially heart disease. They can also cause side effects or interact with other medicines you're taking, such as blood thinners and some alpha blockers, which are used to treat high blood pressure and prostate conditions. Even mixing them with grapefruit juice can worsen side effects. These are issues your doctor needs to discuss with you when you get a prescription.

Buying Safely Online

Before buying ED drugs online, see your doctor to find out exactly what's causing the problem. It may turn out that you don't need to take these drugs at all. Health conditions that contribute to ED, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, can be treated. If ED is a side effect of a medicine you're taking, your doctor may suggest that you stop taking the drug or take a lower dose.

The FDA is trying to stop the flow of illegal ED drugs, but these medicines still circulate freely on the Internet. Legitimate online pharmacies do exist. It just takes a little bit of sleuthing to find them.

Here’s what to look for when you buy ED drugs online:

  • A licensed pharmacy with an address in the U.S. (Check with your state board of pharmacy or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.)
  • A pharmacy that requires a prescription from your doctor
  • Drugs that are approved by the FDA
  • Containers that are clearly labeled with the name of the drug and the dosage
  • A licensed pharmacist who is available to answer your questions
  • A contact phone number to call if you have questions or problems
  • A clearly stated privacy policy that protects your credit card number and other personal information
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stuart Bergman, MD on August 12, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

FDA: "Hidden Risks of Erectile Dysfunction 'Treatments' Sold Online."

FDA: "The Possible Dangers of Buying Medicines over the Internet." 

National Kidney & Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "Erectile Dysfunction." 

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Erectile Dysfunction -- Overview."

Jackson, G. International Journal of Clinical Practice, March 2010. 

Anonymous. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, April 2010. 

News release, FDA.

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