Maybe you're trying to save money on your prescriptions. Or you just don't want to drive to your local drugstore every month. Either way, buying meds via mail can be a smart option. Here's what you need to know about using a mail-order pharmacy.

How Do Mail-Order Pharmacies Work?

If you have health insurance, your provider probably has a partnership with a specific mail-order pharmacy. You can call the number on your insurance card or visit your insurer's website to find out how to place an order. Your doctor can send your prescription directly, or you'll fill out an order form online or through the mail and attach the prescription. Within about a week, your meds will arrive at your door -- usually a 90-day supply.

What Prescriptions Can’t Be Mailed?

Mail-order pharmacies are a great choice for prescriptions you take regularly (called "maintenance drugs"). Examples would be birth control pills and blood pressure meds. Americans get about a third of their long-term prescriptions by mail.

If you need a prescription filled fast -- an antibiotic for an infection, for example -- a mail-order pharmacy won't make sense, and you'll need to visit your local pharmacy for same-day service. If your prescription is for a controlled substance -- like Adderall for ADHD, or Ambien for sleep -- there may be some restrictions on what you can receive by mail.

Differences Between Mail-Order and Online Pharmacies

Ordering from a mail-order pharmacy isn't the same thing as buying from an online one. The online kind can operate from anywhere in the world. This means they may not be subject to U.S. laws that regulate the medicines they sell. They aren’t affiliated with your insurance, although some will take insurance.

There are plenty of legit online pharmacies, but there are also dishonest ones. They often offer deep discounts on drugs and don't even need a prescription. Often, the meds they sell are counterfeit. If you decide to order medication from an online pharmacy, make sure it's licensed through your state's board of pharmacy.

Mail-order pharmacies may not be the cheapest option.

To compete with mail-order pharmacies, many brick-and-mortar drugstores now offer 90-day supplies of prescriptions with low copays. And big-box stores that fill prescriptions also offer deals, especially if you choose a generic drug. So, if you're looking for the best price, be sure to shop around.

They're not as personal as your local pharmacy.

When your prescriptions come to your doorstep, you don't get the chance to talk to the pharmacists and build a relationship with them. So if you have lots of questions about your medications, mail-order may not be the best choice for you.

If you use a mail-order service, you'll need to stay on top of a few details. Make sure you set up an alert that notifies you before an automatic prescription is refilled. That way, if the prescription changes in any way (your doctor adjusts your dose or switches your medication, for example), the mail-order pharmacy has an updated script.

If you fill your prescriptions in different places, be sure to let each one know everything you're taking, so they can screen for dangerous drug interactions.

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