As the primary health care decision maker for most families, women have an important role to play in making sure all medicines are safe to use for themselves and their families.

In the United States, medicine safety is largely overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which approves the sale and marketing of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. However, FDA approval is not enough. Medication that is expired, damaged, adulterated or even fraudulent are also important concerns.

The best way to make sure that your medicines are not adulterated or fraudulent is to purchase them from reliable sources. While most major pharmacy chains now have mail order (or phone or internet) options, pharmacies that are based only on the Internet should be viewed cautiously.

First, it can be very difficult (if not impossible) to know where these pharmacies are located and where the medicines they will be sending you came from. Second, medicine “trans-shipped” from one country through another to the U.S. may appear to come from that intermediary country, but could be fake or somehow substandard and not meet that country’s standards. Third, medicines shipped from other countries can be confiscated at the border since importation of most medicines is not legal in the U.S (although you can generally bring small quantities for personal use when traveling). HealthyWomen has expressed our general and specific safety concerns about the importation of medicines to policy-makers. For example, see the letter we sent (along with others) to State Senators in Colorado.

Such aspects of buying medicines online from outside the U.S. are ongoing important policy issues about which HealthyWomen will continue to monitor and provide information.

Another area of concern with purchasing medicines from other countries is that patients lose the ability to communicate with their pharmacist about their medicines. Your local pharmacist — or one you can call at your mail order pharmacy — can be an important source of information as part of your care team. Lastly, medicines purchased from other countries are not covered by any insurance benefits, including applying their cost towards your deductible. As part of our medication safety policy work, we will continue to advocate for better care coordination and communications among patients and clinicians.