Medications can be expensive, so while it's important to look for ways to save, there are some things to be aware of when purchasing medications. Many people trying to cut costs unknowingly end up purchasing counterfeit drugs online. Unfortunately, counterfeit medications can do worse than simply not work — they can cause health issues and even lead to death.1
What To Look For When Purchasing Medication
Make sure you only go to a legitimate pharmacy. If you have any concerns about the pharmacy, ask to speak to the pharmacist. If you have any doubts, or the prices seem too good, you have the option to go elsewhere.
When purchasing online, look at the company's 'About' page. Call their contact number, check their email, and look for anything that may be suspicious such as a phone number that doesn't work, or a location that doesn't exist.
Counterfeit medications are most often sold on the Internet due to the ease of setting up an online store and the abilitiy it gives scammers to be anonymous. Some counterfeit manufacturers employ sophisticated web designers to ensure their ads look legitimate and show up in search or social media. When shopping for medications using an online pharmacy, only consider ones that are certified by a trusted source. For instance, in the U.S. you can look for an online store certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). They only certify pharmacies that meet state licensing and inspection requirements.2
Tip: Find a NABP certified online pharmacy here.
Indications a Medicine May Be Counterfeit
Look at the label of the medication to ensure it is correct or compare it to your old label. Check dates, as well as spelling and grammar on the packaging. Counterfeiters often make mistakes. Hold onto any packaging (such as a box) until you are sure the medication is working properly.
When you receive your medication open the container to ensure that the medication has not changed in size, shape, color, or markings on the medication. This may include printing on pills or score marks meant to make it easier to split medication in half. If the medication looks different, ask to speak with your pharmacist to verify the legitimacy of the product. 3
Medication that doesn’t feel the same as it always has may be fake. When you take medication, if it tastes bad or has a different consistency than your typical medication — stop taking it immediately.4
In many cases you will not be able to identify counterfeit medications. Counterfeiters are getting better at imitating the look of the real medication. Unfortunately, they are not as careful with what’s inside the pill or bottle. That is why it is important to monitor your symptoms and regularly attend doctor's appointments to follow up on progress with your health issues — and to purchase all medication from a verified pharmacy.
How To Save Money On Medication
One of the main reasons people seek out alternative methods of purchasing prescription drugs are medication costs. Thankfully, there are other ways to save that don't involve counterfeit medications.5
- Ask for a discount card. Many drug manufacturers offer discount cards.
- Ask your doctor for samples. In many cases, but especially when trying a new medication, your doctor may have samples you can try.
- Ask for generics. If there is a generic version of the medication ask your doctor to include that in your prescription. The pharmacy will then be able to fill the prescription with a less expensive, but still effective generic version.
- Use mail-order offered through your insurance. Many insurance companies offer a discount for purchasing medication via their mail-order system. Check with your insurance company to find out if you can save with mail order.
Remember, counterfeit medicines are fakes. Your medical condition is real and requires real medication to treat it. If you think you may have received counterfeit medication, reach out to your pharmacy and the drug manufacturer immediately. Read more about how you can help "Fight the Fakes."
1. Facts and Figures. https://www.pfizer.com/counterfeiting/facts-and-figures. Accessed June 13, 2018.
2. Pfizer's Role in Combating Counterfeit Medicine. https://www.pfizer.com/counterfeiting/fighting-counterfeit-medicine. Accessed June 13, 2018.
3. Frequently Asked Questions. https://www.pfizer.com/counterfeiting/frequently-asked-questions. Accessed June 13, 2018.
4. How to Know if Your Prescription Drugs are Counterfeit. https://www.foxbusiness.com/features/how-to-know-if-your-prescription-drugs-are-counterfeit. Accessed June 13, 2018.
5. 7 ways to save cash on prescription drugs. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/7-ways-save-cash-prescription-drugs-2017051811638. Accessed June 13, 2018.