The Definitive Guide to Buying Prescription Drugs Online

Last reviewed: 02 Mar 2019

2 men reading about buying prescription drugs online together on one phone
Contents of this article

1. DON'T trust sites offering medication without the need for a prescription

Prescription drugs need a prescription for a reason- whether that's due to potency, the severity of a drug's side effects or the possible risk of overdose- there's a lot more to consider than with over-the-counter medication and taking something that isn't suitable for you could, in the worst case scenario, even cost you your life. There are two types of online dispensaries and the information they require of you varies between them:

  • Traditional online pharmacies

These do not employ doctors, so will need you to provide a legally valid prescription (from your GP or other qualified health professional) before they can dispense any medication to you. An email prescription is not sufficient.

  • Online doctors services, such as Zava

These employ proper, GMC regulated doctors so are qualified to offer their own online consultations in place of an existing prescription. In this instance you will be required to complete a comprehensive medical questionnaire so that they can properly assess your suitability for the treatment.

If you are not asked either for a valid prescription or to provide background health information before making your purchase, alarm bells should be ringing and you should consider buying your medicine elsewhere.

2. DO check for proper accreditation

The sale of prescription medication is strictly regulated in the UK, and all drugs sold legally must have a valid MHRA license.

All health care services in England must be regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to ensure that essential standards of quality and safety are being met. So the CQC logo should be displayed somewhere on the website.

All legitimate internet pharmacies must be regulated by either the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) or the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). If you are unsure, the

GPhC operates an internet pharmacy logo scheme, so look out for this, rectangular green cross displaying a unique registration number.

All authentic online doctors will be GMC registered and as such comply with the Good Medical Practice Guidelines. Look out for a 7 digit registration number (this should be clearly displayed for each doctor), which you can use to check their registration status using the GMC website.

Legitimate online doctors surgeries will be associated with registered, trusted pharmacies. All registered pharmacies must have a physical, 'bricks and mortar' address which will be clearly displayed on their website.

3. DO look for credible information

Legitimate websites will contain relevant, high quality information about both the drugs they prescribe and the conditions they treat; while scam sites tend just to focus on how cheap and easily obtainable their products are.

4. DON'T trust sites where there's no one to talk to

Credible sites will list a contact number or contain some kind of internal messaging system that allows their doctors or pharmacists to be on hand to answer any questions or reservations you might have.

5. DON'T trust pharmacies without a UK address and phone number

Loopholes in the law make it possible for foreign companies to sell unlicensed prescription medication and the vast majority of counterfeit medicine comes from East Asia or South East Asia.

6. DON'T trust sites that use poor grammar or broken English

Again, this suggests that the operation is based abroad.

7. DON'T listen to email spam

Half of all unsolicited emails are selling medication online. These will usually head directly to your spam folder and that's exactly where they should stay. If you are interested in purchasing a particular drug, you should conduct your own research rather than following the links found in junk email.

8. DON'T trust sites whose prices are dramatically lower than the competition

Likewise, avoid pharmacies that offer to 'sell in bulk', provide discount offers or 'miracle cures.' If something sounds too good to be true, it generally is.

9. DO check for fair returns policies

Some 'companies' operate under the guise of online pharmacies when their real, underlying motives are to obtain personal information to sell to third parties; they are unlikely to send you any medication, fake or not. A comprehensive returns policy is one way of ensuring that the site is to be trusted.

10. DO protect your details

Unscrupulous internet companies may employ deceptive methods to extort money or extract your personal information. Be wary of any sites that do not explicitly state all shipping fees, privacy and payment options up front as well as those that don't have secure and encrypted systems to guarantee safe transactions.

When you get ready to "check out," the URL on that page should start with https:// (not http://). The 's' indicates that the page is secure.

When buying prescription drugs online you should always err on the side of caution. This means avoiding any websites that violate even one or two of our guidelines and refusing to be swayed by cheap deals. Remember, they're probably unbelievable for a reason.


Dr Nicholas Antonakopoulos graduated from the University of London in 2006. He did his postgraduate training in hospitals in the London area, and he trained for four years in Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery before completing his training in General practice in 2015.

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Last reviewed: 02 Mar 2019

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