How to Find 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. 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. For additional tips, see Nutrition and Healthy Eating (Mayo Clinic) and Tips for Dietary Supplement Users (U.S. FDA).

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 National Library of Medicine’s Pillbox or 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.

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 Buying Prescription Medicine Online (Food and Drug Administration)  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 at the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

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 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 Safe Disposal of Medicines on the U.S. FDA website.

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. To see if you qualify, refer to their website, a single point of access to more than 475 public and private programs, including nearly 200 offered by pharmaceutical companies. For information on how to help qualify uninsured children to get free or nearly free brand-name medicines, see the separate PPA website.

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 the Medicare Plan Finder.

11. Need more information?

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


Page authored by Terri Ottosen, Health Sciences Library at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Last updated May 21, 2018 at 4:56 pm