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Finding Reliable Drug Information Online

Answers to the following questions can help you locate and evaluate reliable drug information sites.

1. What is the difference between prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs?

A drug is a substance used to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent disease. For information about the differences between over-the-counter and prescription drugs, please visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website.

2. How can I choose a dietary supplement (including herbal medications)?

Unlike drugs, dietary supplements (including herbals) are not evaluated by the FDA for safety and efficacy. Dietary supplements are not always risk-free and they may interact with other drugs and/or supplements. For this reason, please check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting a dietary supplement. New regulations require manufacturers to ensure their products are free of contaminants. These regulations are being phased in over the next three years, however, so not all supplements are currently tested. When choosing a supplement, look for the U.S. Pharmacopeia's "USP Dietary Supplement Verified" seal. This may indicate the product has met certain manufacturing standards. Additional tips can be found at the Mayo Clinic website and the U.S. FDA website.

3. Where can I find detailed information on specific prescription and OTC drugs and dietary supplements?

You can search MedlinePlus for reliable information about specific prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as dietary supplements (including herbals).

4. Is there an online resource I can use to identify a prescription drug?

Yes, you can use the Medical University of South Carolina drug and pill identifier to search for the name of a tablet or capsule with a specific color, shape, and/or marking. You can search for a picture of a particular drug using Express Scripts.

5. Is there an online drug interaction tool available?

Yes, Express Scripts can help you determine if the drugs (and/or dietary supplements) you are taking interact with each other. Information is for your education only and should be discussed with your doctor or pharmacist before any changes are made.

6. Is it illegal to buy prescription drugs online?

No, buying prescription drugs online is not illegal. It is important, however, to be careful and to know your online source when doing so. Refer to the FDA's Consumer Safety Guide before buying prescription drugs online and have your state board of pharmacy verify you are buying from a state-licensed pharmacy located in the United States. You can find a list of state boards of pharmacy as well as information about counterfeit drugs on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy website.

7. What questions should I ask my physician about my new prescription?

Asking questions about a new prescription can help prevent medication errors. Visit the National Council on Patient Information and Education website for tips on what to ask about new prescriptions.

8. What is the best way to dispose of drugs?

It can be tricky to dispose of drugs once they have been dispensed. Most drugs should not be flushed down the toilet but can be thrown away in the trash after mixing with a substance that will make them unappealing (such as coffee grounds). For more information and tips please visit the U.S. FDA website on disposal of drugs.

9. How do I find out about prescription assistance programs?

The Partnership for Prescription Assistance helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage obtain the medicines they need for free or nearly free. Their website is a single point of access to more than 475 public and private programs, including nearly 200 offered by pharmaceutical companies. Refer to the website to see if you qualify. A separate website was designed to help qualifying uninsured children get free or nearly free brand-name medicines.

10. How do I choose the right Medicare Part D program?

While cost is important, it should not be the only factor to consider when selecting a Medicare plan. Equally important are the participating pharmacies and drugs covered under the plan. For tips on what you should consider when choosing or changing coverage, refer to the Medicare website. If you need to search for or compare coverage options in your area, please visit this section of the Medicare website.

11. Need more information?

For more information about medications, see the NC Health Info Drugs & Pharmaceuticals section.


Page authored by Mary Bennett and Christie Silbajoris

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and Health Sciences Library at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Thursday, November 19, 2015 - 10:56