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Drugs: How To Purchase


These days, drugs can be purchased from a variety of sources. For instance:  a drug store, online, by mail order, or through a buyers club.

There are a variety of factors to consider when purchasing drugs in addition to convenience and price. (If you shop around, you may save 20-60% of the cost of the drug(s) you need.) For a complete list of factors to consider, click here.  

If you consider purchasing online from outside the U.S., or you actually go to Canada or Mexico, understand the risks as well as the financial savings.

  • To learn about the risks of buying drugs outside the U.S., click here.
  • If you are going to go to a neighboring country, click here for Canada, here for Mexico.

If you get a new prescription for a drug that you will continue to take over time, you can get a small quantity of a new prescription at a convenient place while you take the time to make an informed decision.

If you buy drugs from more than one source, or if you have several doctors, it is advisable that at least one pharmacy has a complete list of all of your drugs (including over-the-counter drugs, supplements and herbs). Having everything listed in one place makes it easy for a professional to check for negative interactions between different drugs, and also make sure that none of the ingredients affect any allergies or drug sensitivities you may have or develop over time.

To learn about  how to save money when purchasing prescription drugs, click here

As part of the real cost of drugs, also consider the following which can save money:

  • Minimize the cost of obtaining a written prescription.  Maybe you don't need the expense of a a visit to a doctor. (To learn how, click here.)
  • Do your part to help minimize costly medical error relating to the drugs you take. To learn how, click here
  • Do your part to help avoid over medication which can also result in unnecessary side effects and costs. To learn how, click here.  
  • Keep in mind that, contrary to our instincts about price, the cost of a drug does not necessarily relate to its effectiveness.

If you have health coverage:

  • Check the following:
    • That each drug you are considering purchasing is covered by your health insurance
    • How much you have to pay as a co-payment, and 
    • Whether there are alternatives that work as well for you for less money.
  • If a pharmacist says that a particular drug is not covered by your insurance, consider the following:
    • Ask him or her to contact the insurer to find out why. There may be an error or you may be able to appeal the decision. For instance, there may be a denial because the prescribed use is "off label" (not part of the original use approved by the FDA when it approved the drug for use in the U.S.). Medicare, for instance, covers off label uses if they are mentioned in certain professional publications (compendia). 
    • Is the drug available under a Prescription Assistance Program (PAP)
    • If you have Medicare, check to see whether the drug could be covered under Medicare Part A or B.
  • For information about living with drugs, including storing and disposing of them properly, click here


  • When ordering drugs through the mail, check to learn about storage requirements. For instance, some drugs such as insulin need to be refrigerated or lose their effectivness. Other drugs should not be exposed to extreme heat or extreme cold. If you are concerned about the manner of shipping, contact the supplier.
  • If the drug you need is not yet FDA approved, you may be able to get it through a clinical trial (studies to determine safety and effectiveness of a drug) or from the drug manufacturer as a "compassionate use" or under expanded access programs. To learn about clinical trials, click here. Compassionate use, click here.
  • There are options available to purchase drugs when you can't afford them. For information, click here.
  • For information about purchasing medical marijuana, click here.

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