Surfing for drugs on the web is a great way to save, but don't assume that online prices will always be lower than those at your local pharmacy.

Surfing for drugs on the web is a great way to save, but don't assume that online prices will always be lower than those at your local pharmacy.(ISTOCKPHOTO)

Buying prescription medicine online can be a convenient and, in some cases, less expensive way to stock up on drugs you take regularly. If your insurance policy has a prescription benefit, your co-pay will be the same no matter where you shop. But if you pay for your own prescriptions or need a drug that isn't covered by your insurance plan (expensive patented drugs not yet available as generics, for instance), shopping online could save you money. But you need to shop around and take precautions to make sure your health and well-being are not compromised by counterfeit or toxic drugs. Use these tips when shopping online to make sure you're actually saving money and getting quality, legitimate prescription medication:

  1. Shop around. Websites such as PharmacyChecker and DestinationRx allow you to search for the drug you need and compare prices at numerous online pharmacies. Don't assume that online prices will be lower than those at your local pharmacy, however. Prices often vary between different pharmacy chains, websites, and even a single chain's stores and website. You may have to comparison shop by checking with multiple stores and sites.
  2. Make sure the pharmacy is legitimate. Verify that there is a licensed pharmacist available to answer your questions and that the site requires a prescription from your doctor or another authorized medical professional. You'll need to mail in a prescription—or have your doctor fax or call it in—before a legitimate site will send you any medicine. Check the website in question for specific instructions.
  3. Plan ahead. You should allow at least two weeks for your prescription to be processed. If you don't receive your order in time, you may need to get a fill-in, which you may have to pay for out-of-pocket, as most prescription plans don't pay for more doses than the prescribed amount.
  4. Exercise caution when ordering from pharmacies outside the U.S. Although this is a common practice, and although several state governments have set up programs that help their residents purchase drugs from Canada and other countries, buying drugs from foreign pharmacies can be risky and in some cases illegal. The Food and Drug Administration has reported instances of Americans who unwittingly purchased counterfeit or tainted medications from foreign pharmacies.