Buying medicines and medical devices over the Internet

19 February 2015

The Internet can offer consumers a convenient way to access therapeutic goods, but online purchases of medicines or medical devices should be approached with caution.

Products available on international websites are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). If care is not taken, consumers may inadvertently break the law, waste their money or risk their health.

Without taking measures to ensure a website is legitimate, consumers face risks, including using medicines and medical devices that:

  • are fake (counterfeit)
  • are too strong or too weak
  • contain undisclosed, dangerous ingredients
  • are past their use-by date
  • are contaminated or not manufactured to appropriate standards

Do not order medicines, including dietary supplements and herbal preparations, over the Internet unless you know exactly what is in the preparation and have checked the legal requirements for importation and use in Australia.

Do not order medical devices, including hearing aids, over the Internet unless you know exactly how they have been manufactured and that they meet the legal requirements for importation and use in Australia.

The following information is designed to assist consumers if they choose to purchase therapeutic goods over the Internet.

Consult a health professional first

Ask a healthcare professional before you buy something. Medical guidance from the Internet should not replace consultation with your healthcare provider and should be interpreted with extreme caution.

A consultation with a health professional will:

  • ensure you are treated with the most appropriate medicine or medical device
  • provide you with guidance on how to best take a medicine, or use a medical device safely
  • prevent you from wasting money on an unnecessary, ineffective or harmful medicine or medical device.

Only purchase from pharmacies or suppliers located in Australia

Medicines and medical devices purchased from overseas are not approved by the TGA for supply in Australia and may not meet the same standards of safety, quality and efficacy. Even if the medicine you buy has the same name as one available in Australia, it could contain entirely different ingredients.

Check to ensure the site provides adequate contact details

The site you are purchasing from should provide an Australian street address and telephone number. A legitimate site will provide a way for you to talk to someone if you have a problem.

Make sure the site requires a valid prescription

To purchase or import a prescription medicine in Australia, you must have a valid Australian-issued prescription.

Be suspicious of:

Wild claims

If information sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Warning signs to look out for include:

  • emotive and sensational phrases with exclamation marks, such as 'miracle cure' and 'scientifically proven breakthrough'
  • claims of treatment that is not available elsewhere
  • 'testimonials' from cured customers or famous medical experts
  • claims that the product can cure serious or incurable diseases
  • greatly reduced prices and offers to supply medicines without a prescription

Unauthorised email

Commercial emails sent without the prior consent of the recipient are known as 'spam' and are prohibited in Australia. If you receive an unwanted or unprompted email from an online pharmacy, delete it.

Spam email offers are often designed to steal credit card details. Furthermore, even if you do receive your order, there is no guarantee of the product's safety, efficacy or quality.

For more information, or if you want to report a problem with a product purchased over the Internet please contact the TGA on 1800 020 653.