When purchased through the traditional, legitimate supply chain, medicines are one of the most highly regulated products in the world but there is virtually no oversight on the sale of prescription medicines online. Of the roughly 35,000 online pharmacy websites sellers active at any given time, more than 95% operate out of compliance with applicable laws, often selling medicines without a prescription, without a pharmacy license, and misleading consumers with counterfeit, adulterated, unapproved, and/or misbranded products. Purchasing medications from these rogue sites can have dangerous consequences, from receiving no therapeutic benefit to being harmed by toxic ingredients, but few are aware of the dangers and how to stay safe when purchasing medications online.

  • Nearly 55% of Americans report they would buy medicine online, mostly driven by convenience and cost, and recent studies suggest that 35% of Americans already have. 
  • 7 in 10 Americans erroneously believe that if an online pharmacy website appears at or near the top of search engine results, it is likely to be legitimate, with 4 in 10 incorrectly believing that all websites offering healthcare services and/or prescription medications have FDA or state approval. 
  • 1 in 3 Americans have discussed locating online pharmacies with a healthcare professional, but only half report that they have talked with their provider about the potential risks. 

Healthcare providers play a critical role in educating patients about their prescriptions but not all talk to their patients about where they get their medicines and how to stay safe if purchasing online. Learn more below on how to identify the warning signs of rogue online pharmacies and how to identify safe, legitimate online pharmacies. 

How Can You Be An Advocate for Patient Safety Online?

Educate yourself and other healthcare providers on the risks of using illegal online pharmacies:

Talk to your patients about where they purchase their medicines and share the following resources:

Advise your patients on ways to stay safe and save money – verify before you buy online:

GoodRx collects prices, coupons & discounts from over 60,000 legitimate, licensed U.S. pharmacies.

RefillWise offers a discount card that helps you save on prescription drugs prices at all major U.S. pharmacies.

NeedyMeds helps patients find Patient Assistance Programs that provide free or discounted medicines to people who are unable to afford them.

ASOP Global Foundation Pilot Project

HIV Prevention and Treatment – The Threats of Illegal Online Drug Sellers to Public Health and Patient Safety 

To address the threat of HIV positive and HIV-at-risk persons buying medications online from illegal and grey market sources, the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies Global Foundation (ASOP) partnered with healthcare providers and public health experts in New York City – a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS – to develop a toolkit to educate patients, providers, and community organizations about the dangers of purchasing medications online.

Healthcare professionals who work with people living with HIV and populations at risk for HIV can use the following materials to educate themselves and their patients on the (1) risks of buying ART and PrEP medications through illegal online sources and (2) ways to access safe, legitimate medicines.

Ending the Epidemic of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. – the Importance of Access to Legitimate Medications 

  • After 5 years of steep declines in annual new HIV infections, U.S. progress towards ending the HIV / AIDS epidemic has stalled. From 2015 – 2019, the number of new HIV cases per year remained consistent at 39,000.
  • In 2019 the White House launched a national initiative to achieve a 75% reduction in new HIV infections by 2025. Included in this initiative are strategies to connect newly diagnosed patients to antiretroviral therapies (ART) and improve access of at-risk individuals to medications approved for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). 
  • When ART is taken regularly, HIV positive patients can suppress viral loads to “undetectable” levels. Undetectable levels of viral load are often considered to be untransmittable. And when PrEP is taken as directed, the risk of being infected with HIV is near-zero.
  • However, an overlooked threat to reaching this ambitious goal is the illegal sale of medications, which has been an issue for HIV/AIDS drugs since the mid 90’s. 
  • Substandard, falsified, or otherwise counterfeit drugs – including those for PrEP – have been found advertise and sold both in brick-and-mortar store locations and via illegal online pharmacy websites.
  • Read more here ASOP Global Fact Sheets.

COMING SOON – Materials for Patients

Materials can be co-branded with your organizations’ logos to demonstrate the dedication and collaboration around patient safety. If you are interested in doing so, please reach out to the ASOP Global Foundation. 

Partner with Us

The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies Foundation partners with healthcare providers, caregivers, health systems, and other stakeholders within the healthcare delivery system to raise awareness of the risks associated with illegal online drug sellers and the threats posed by counterfeit medicines. Please contact us to learn more about the ASOP Global Foundation and how we can partner with your organization.