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Buying Drugs Online

Many of the major drug store chains have Web sites, and there are very reputable online drug stores out there that can save you money. However, there are also some online vendors you should stay away from.

So if you like to buy your prescriptions online, Dr. Mallika Marshall says it is important to do your homework.

Foreign online vendors, especially, tend to sell counterfeit drugs, drugs that are past their expiration date, or drugs that say they are one dosage but are really another.

On The Saturday Early Show, Marshall offers the following safety tips:

Speak with your doctor before ordering. While it may seem obvious, Marshall says it can't be stressed enough. Your physician needs to know about every medication you are taking.

Buy only prescribed medications. Many people get unsolicited emails from some of these disreputable operations offering erectile dysfunction drugs, pain medications, or pills that re-grow your hair. You may even recognize the brand names of these drugs, but, unless you have a doctor's prescription, don't buy them. There is a very strong possibility the drugs being sold are counterfeit. But even if they are real, you still could be endangering yourself. These medications require a prescription because they can have serious side effects if used improperly or by someone with a pre-existing medical condition. So while you may be tempted to buy one of these drugs, don't.

Don't get an online evaluation. Many of these Web sites will offer to sell you a prescription drug if you fill out an online health evaluation, which they claim is looked at by a doctor. The bottom line, though, is you have no idea if it's really a doctor looking at these forms. And this presents a whole host of problems. These surveys often don't ask the right questions about your medical history or other drugs that you may be taking, so you could wind up taking a medication that can do you serious harm.

Be sure you can speak to a pharmacist. If a Web site doesn't offer you the option of speaking directly to a pharmacist, don't buy from it. Many people have several doctors and it's up to the pharmacist to tell if the drugs prescribed by these different doctors may counteract each other.

Use only verified Internet pharmacy sites. This program was rolled out in 1999 in order to keep consumers safe when buying drugs online. To be VIPPS certified, a pharmacy must comply with the licensing and inspection requirements of their state and each state they dispense drugs. If the Web site you are buying from doesn't have this "seal of approval," don't buy from it. You could be putting yourself at serious risk.