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Buying medicines online

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Buying medicines online may seem to have advantages, but you need to be careful.
  • There is a risk you could lose your money, break the law or seriously damage your health.
  • Before buying medicines online, check to see if the pharmacy is based in Australia and that it’s a real business.

What do I need to think about when buying medicines online?

Buying medicines online may be more convenient than getting them from your local pharmacy. Before buying medicines online, check to see that the pharmacy is based in Australia and that it’s a real business.

The website should ideally show:

  • a physical address in Australia
  • an email address
  • a working phone number
  • more details about the company, such as an Australian Company Number (ACN)

Search for reviews from other customers.

Australian-based pharmacies will ask to see your prescription before they send your medicine.

They will also have a phone number that lets you talk with their pharmacist during business hours.

Working out the websites you can trust isn't always easy.

How can I safely buy medicines online?

Do your research and follow these 3 steps before buying medicines online:

  1. make sure you're buying from an Australian pharmacy
  2. use the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s online resources
  3. talk to your doctor or pharmacist

Buying prescription medicines in Australia

In Australia, some medicines are only available from a pharmacist. You need to show the pharmacist with a prescription from your doctor or other health care professional.

Prescription medicines have higher risks of:

  • serious side effects
  • the potential for addiction or misuse
  • more complicated ways of taking them (such as by injection)

The need for a prescription makes sure that your doctor can:

  • assess your condition
  • decide on the most appropriate medicine for you
  • check any other medicines you take to prevent interactions
  • explain how to take your medicine

Any website that sends you prescription medicines without first receiving a prescription from a doctor is breaking the law.

These are not trusted pharmacies and buying from them is a serious risk. Buying non-prescription medicines from these websites can also be risky.

Shopping for medicines on overseas websites

The medicines may be cheaper on overseas websites, but you need to be careful. There is a risk you could:

  • lose your money
  • break the law
  • seriously damage your health

The medicines might never arrive. This could be because they were stopped by Australian customs because they contain ingredients you are not allowed to import. It’s illegal to import some medicines, such as steroids and antibiotics.

As with any purchase from an overseas business, you might not be protected by Australian consumer laws.

Also think about what will happen if the post is delayed and you don’t get your medicine in time.

The medicines may look right, but you can't tell if they:

  • are counterfeit (fake)
  • have the wrong amount of active ingredient
  • contain poisonous chemicals
  • contain dangerous ingredients
  • contain ingredients that are illegal in Australia

How are medicines regulated in Australia?

Medicines are known legally as 'therapeutic goods'. In Australia, medicines must be assessed and approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) before they can be sold.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration checks that the medicines are safe and do what they are supposed to do.

In addition to medicines, the Therapeutic Goods Administration also checks the quality of goods such as:

  • bandages, pregnancy tests, and artificial hips and knees
  • complementary medicines, including vitamins
  • sunscreen and other products that claim to protect skin from the sun

Medicines or medical devices bought online from overseas companies are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration also does not regulate most protein supplements, which are usually treated as foods, not therapeutic goods.

Resources and support

To learn more, you can:

It would be good to differentiate between buying in Aus and overseas websites. Stating that quality and safety of medicines from overseas is not a certainty like it is buying them here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2023

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