Is It Legal to Buy Prescription Drugs From Online Pharmacies?

We have all seen the ads online? But is it legal to buy drugs from these online pharmacies? Let’s hear from my lawyer friend Rand Mintzer.

The medicine sold by online pharmacies is often less expensive than the medicine sold at the neighborhood drugstore. Under certain circumstances, it is legal to purchase prescription drugs from online pharmacies, but patients should avoid any Web sites that are unlicensed or that dispense drugs without requiring a valid prescription.

Patients Need a Prescription to Buy Drugs Online

It is illegal to purchase prescription medication without a prescription. Online pharmacies that do not require a valid prescription may be severely penalized for breaking the law.

Doctors Who Write Prescriptions Must Meet Their Patients in Person

A physician must see a patient in person in order to write a valid prescription. Some online pharmacies try to circumvent this law by creating their own prescriptions for patients based upon information provided over the Internet. This practice is illegal and has the capacity to greatly harm patients.

An Online Pharmacy Must be Licensed in a Patient’s State

Patients who want to legally purchase drugs online must locate a pharmacy that’s licensed in their state. For example, a pharmacy that is based in New York and licensed only in that state cannot legally sell to patients in New Jersey. Patients can find out if an online pharmacy is licensed in their state by contacting the state’s Board of Pharmacy.

Buying Drugs from Foreign Countries is Illegal

Many websites offer drugs from foreign countries. The drugs sold by foreign pharmacies are often inexpensive, and some drugs are only available oversees. However, it is illegal to purchase medicine from a foreign pharmacy.

Patients Should Avoid Illegal Online Pharmacies

There are many legitimate pharmacies on the Internet. Unfortunately, some online pharmacies have practices that are illegal and unethical. Some of the signs that an online pharmacy is operating illegally include:

  • The pharmacy offers to prescribe drugs based upon a questionnaire filled out by a patient
  • The pharmacy operates solely in a foreign country
  • The pharmacy does not have a licensed pharmacist on staff
  • The pharmacy does not allow patients to speak to the staff pharmacist
  • The pharmacy claims to sell prescription drugs without a prescription

Patients Who Illegally Purchase Drugs Online Face Problems

Patients who want to save money on prescription drugs may purchase drugs online illegally. The pitfalls that these patients can encounter include:

  • An arrest
  • A hearing in a criminal court
  • A possible criminal sentence

Additionally, the drugs provided by an illegal online pharmacy may conflict with medicine that a patient is already taking. The drugs sold by illegal online pharmacies may be expired, untested or unsafe.

Patients can buy drugs online legally if they meet certain conditions. An online pharmacy must be licensed in a patient’s state to dispense medicine without violating the law. To buy drugs online legally, a patient must visit a physician’s office and obtain a valid prescription.


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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 252-9167
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