Purchasing Prescriptions: Is Saving Money Risky?

Emily Hartman, B.S.

August 2009

Who doesn’t want to save money on prescriptions? Whether temporary or long-term, health problems that require prescription medication can be expensive. In order to alleviate this, consumers are going online to find savings they may not find in stores. For some, the list of medications needed is as long as a grocery list, so it is not hard to see why patients are searching for cheaper alternatives to their local drugstore routine.

It is possible to save money safely for many medications, but not all medications. For example, major U.S. drug companies often charge a different amount of money for the exact same pill sold in different countries.  In those situations, the cost has nothing to do with the quality of the drug.

While buying prescription drugs online may help your cash flow, proceed with caution! There are a few key things to look out for before diving into the world of online purchasing.

  • Always check to make sure the online pharmacy is legitimate. Avoid an online pharmacy if the website does not have a phone number to call where you may call a licensed pharmacist to ask questions. A huge red flag: websites that do not require a prescription.
  • Never give your personal information out to any site without a valid business address and phone number. You can find out if the website you are using is secure by checking the bottom-right corner of your internet browser for the “lock” icon. This icon does not provide a guarantee, but will provide a higher chance of a safe online transaction versus sites that do not present the lock icon.
  • Some states, such as Wisconsin and North Dakota, provide links on their government-run websites to trusted Canadian pharmacies that will honor U.S. prescriptions at a potentially lower cost. A particularly useful website, DestinationRx, allows users to compare medications both online and in-store. The site will show the most and least expensive cost for the drug as well as how much alternatives to the drug cost.

For example, if a user types in the drug “Synthroid,” a drug commonly used to lower blood pressure, he or she will find that cost for a 30-day supply of 100MCG tablets is $15.93-$23.99. From there, comparing pharmacy prices in a given zip code or accessing safety and warning information is just a click away.

Switching to a generic version is usually a good idea but should be discussed with your doctor or pharmacist, to reduce any potential problems. Switching brands is more complicated, so you should be sure to ask your doctor.  Ask if the dosage will be the same, if a switch will be cost-effective, and if there are any new risks or side effects with the other brand.

It is possible to safely save money the next time prescription medications need to be purchased. Doing a little online research, double-checking the site you want to buy from is secure, and checking with your physician or pharmacist, can reduce the amount of money you spend on medications-especially in the long run.