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VIPPS Frequently Asked Questions

For Consumers

  1. What organizations regulate online pharmacy?
  2. Isn’t the number of internet sites far too large to monitor and control?
  3. What’s wrong with using a website to get Viagra® and Xenical®?
  4. Can I get really cheap prices from pharmacies outside the US?
  5. Can I get cheap prices from legitimate online pharmacies?
  6. What if I believe an online pharmacy has dispensed the wrong medication or labeled the medication incorrectly?
  7. What are the signs of a suspiciously operating pharmacy? What if I believe that an online pharmacy may be operating suspiciously?
  8. I experienced poor customer service from, or read negative online reviews of, a pharmacy doing business over the internet, and I noticed that NABP has accredited/approved this business. Can NABP revoke accreditation/approval from this business or intervene?

For VIPPS Applicants

  1. How do I set up a website for my pharmacy?
  2. How are international online sites regulated?
  3. What organization covers the security of patient information for online pharmacies?
  4. Can a prescription be faxed to the online pharmacy, or does the pharmacy need the original prescription? Does the online pharmacy verify the prescription with the prescriber?

For Consumers

1. What organizations regulate online pharmacy?

The same regulations that apply to traditional brick-and-mortar and mail-order pharmacies typically apply to online pharmacies. Regulatory authority is mainly exercised by the state board of pharmacy in which a pharmacy is physically located. In addition, most states protect their citizens by licensing “out-of-state pharmacies” that ship medications to patients in their jurisdictions. Federal agencies, such as FDA and DEA, are also partners with the state boards of pharmacy in this regulatory process. FDA, however, mainly regulates foreign-based sites and practitioners.

NABP does not regulate online pharmacies, but it has strong working relationships with the state boards of pharmacy and the federal agencies. Inspector training programs and the VIPPS “Report a Suspicious Site” programs are examples of ways in which NABP helps regulatory agencies monitor and investigate illegitimate pharmacy practices.

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2. Isn’t the number of internet sites far too large to monitor and control?

No. NABP and the regulatory framework of state boards of pharmacy, federal agencies, and the medical community have been working together for several years now to achieve this goal.

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3. What’s wrong with using a website to get Viagra® and Xenical®?

First, FDA restricts the distribution of certain drugs to a prescription-only basis because in certain medical situations they can be dangerous if not taken with ongoing medical consultation. Most regulatory authorities and professional organizations regard online prescribing to be unprofessional, and in some states it is illegal, unless it is done pursuant to a valid, ongoing patient-prescriber relationship that has included an in-person physical examination. Completing only an online questionnaire does not establish a valid patient-prescriber relationship. Moreover, without a physical examination you could receive inappropriate medication and worsen an underlying, undiagnosed, serious medical condition.

As for increased privacy and confidentiality, evidence appears to indicate that illegitimate prescribing sites frequently sell their customer lists to other illegitimate online pharmacy operators and owners of internet scam and pornography sites. By buying drugs from an illegitimate site, you may be designating yourself as someone who is a good target for rip-off schemes.

Frequently, deceived consumers notify us of non-receipt of medications they ordered and/or credit card charges that illegitimately operating pharmacies refuse to remove. Many also complain that they are unable to contact the pharmacies: phone lines are disconnected or no one answers.

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4. Can I get really cheap prices from pharmacies outside the US?

First, FDA generally prohibits the importation of foreign-made versions of prescription medications that are commercially available in the US. The safety and efficacy of these medications cannot be guaranteed. Many countries’ drug research and control programs are not as safety-oriented as those in the US. Though some of the drugs advertised by foreign sites may be manufactured by the same name brand international drug manufacturer as you are used to, they usually are not manufactured in FDA-inspected facilities that have met FDA standards. Further, sometimes the medications have been subjected to storage conditions that compromised their potency or safety.

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5. Can I get cheap prices from legitimate online pharmacies?

Yes, and more. One of the great benefits to shopping online to fill your prescriptions is the ease with which you can comparison shop. Many pharmacies offer price comparisons between their charge and that of other legitimate pharmacies. This is one way to stretch your health care dollar. Many online pharmacies accept prescription benefit insurance coverage as well. In addition, legitimate online pharmacies often offer valuable health care information in a searchable format. VIPPS-accredited pharmacies are required to offer their customers free phone consultation with a pharmacist, and many offer free ask-a-pharmacist email service as well.

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6. What if I believe an online pharmacy has dispensed the wrong medication or labeled the medication incorrectly?

Please report suspiciously operating pharmacies to NABP. You may do so anonymously. We also encourage you to report such sites to your local state board of pharmacy, especially if you or a loved one has been harmed. NABP forwards information regarding suspiciously operating sites to the most appropriate regulatory authorities.

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7. What are the signs of a suspiciously operating pharmacy? What if I believe that an online pharmacy may be operating suspiciously?

Learning the signs that point to suspect practices can help you protect yourself from rogue internet sites. One sign is dispensing prescription medications without requiring a prescription. Another red flag that you’ve encountered a rogue internet drug outlet is if the site doesn’t list a phone number or street address. You can learn about other warning signs on NABP’s .Pharmacy TLD Program website.

Please report suspiciously operating pharmacies to NABP. You may do so anonymously. We also encourage you to report such sites to your local state board of pharmacy, especially if you or a loved one has been harmed. NABP forwards information regarding suspiciously operating sites to the most appropriate regulatory authorities.

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8. I experienced poor customer service from, or read negative online reviews of, a pharmacy doing business over the internet, and I noticed that NABP has accredited/approved this business. Can NABP revoke accreditation/approval from this business or intervene?

For its Accreditation programs, NABP evaluates only businesses’ adherence to state and federal pharmacy practice laws and best pharmacy practice standards. Unless your complaint centers on a component of an Accreditation program criteria or standard, NABP cannot intervene. NABP has no control over businesses’ customer service or marketing practices. If you have serious concerns about any business you encounter, please contact the state board of pharmacy in which that business is located or a local law enforcement authority.

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For VIPPS Applicants

1. How do I set up a website for my pharmacy?

When pharmacists are thinking about setting up a website for their pharmacies, we encourage them to do their homework and work in conjunction with the state boards of pharmacy. The VIPPS criteria may serve as a solid guideline when an organization plans to expand into interstate/internet pharmacy practice and seeks to address issues of quality, verifiable relationships, regulatory compliance, and good pharmacy practices.

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2. How are international online sites regulated?

As mentioned earlier, online sites located outside the US pose the greatest challenges for state and federal regulators. Cooperation with other nations and their regulatory agencies has been and continues to be the key to regulating online international pharmacy sites. NABP is working with a number of international regulatory agencies to establish VIPPS programs for their online pharmacies.

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3. What organization covers the security of patient information for online pharmacies?

Security, confidentiality, and privacy are among the chief concerns of patients and health care professionals regarding online pharmacy services. State and federal laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protect patient identifiable information. VIPPS and other voluntary certification programs require participating organizations to adhere to and post their privacy policies. In addition, NABP has published guidelines regarding the confidentiality of patient health care information, which can be found in Appendix D of the Model State Pharmacy Act and Model Rules of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. The Model Act is available as a free download.

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4. Can a prescription be faxed to a pharmacy with an online presence, or does the site need the original prescription? Does the pharmacy verify the prescription with the prescriber?

Generally state laws require faxed prescriptions to be received directly from the prescriber (not the patient) to be valid. Online sites that do not protect the integrity of the original prescription, or that do not verify the authenticity of suspect prescriptions, may be in violation of the law. In addition, VIPPS-accredited pharmacies must have policies and procedures in place that address these issues. Before you entrust your health to anyone online, look for the VIPPS Seal and click to verify.

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