Blue Pills in the Mail: Should You Trust ED Drugs Sold Online?

You may not always get what you think when you order online

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Beginning with Viagra in 1998, erectile dysfunction medication has offered men relief from impotence just popping a little blue pill. Viagra (sildenafil) is an FDA-approved medication that requires a prescription. But the cost, along with the stigma of needing help to achieve erections, has caused men in recent years to seek ED medication online.

Online pharmacies are nothing new. Many insurance companies have covered doctor’s prescriptions filled by online pharmacies for years. Some brick-and-mortar stores also provide online options for customers’ convenience. While these can be reputable means of discretely obtaining prescription medication, solely online sellers can be difficult to evaluate because the source of their pills is unknown, according to Oussama Darwish, urologist with VA Medical Center in Buffalo.

“Anything made in Canada or the US should be a good source,” Darwish said. Anything outside Canada and the US can have less of the active ingredient than the correct dose.”

Entities selling ED treatments which are from other countries lack the same scrutiny and regulations as in the United States. Even those shipping from a US address may source from countries without the same laws as the US.

Untrustworthy sites may sell preparations that do not match their labels.

“Some of these medications available are given by physicians but some are not beneficial,” Darwish said. “Some have an herbal component and will not improve ED function.”

He added that while eating a healthful diet rich in flavonoids can decrease the risk for ED in younger men, supplements and herbs have not been proven as beneficial. He also expressed hesitation about some online sources which do not fill doctor’s prescriptions but simply offer a questionnaire for buyers to complete.

“Patients are not fully medically evaluated for other medical comorbidities, which will cause them to have major side effects from the medications like heart disease,” Darwish said. “If a patient is taking nitrates, this can lead to severe complications that can lead to myocardial complications.”

This also means that patients will not receive the same kind of briefing that a physician would provide, such as side effects and what to do if they occur.

“Patients should always consult with their primary care provider,” Darwish said.

Treating erectile dysfunction without a prescription may overlook other health issues causing the problem. 

Khaled Suleiman, pharmacist at Madina Pharmacy in Buffalo, said that men should see a primary care provider to rule out other issues; high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low testosterone or other things.

“Usually, doctors check testosterone and prostate levels,” Suleiman said. “If that’s normal, that’s when doctors prescribe it. They also need to check if they’re taking medication with nitrates. They should not get a script without an exam.”

Even taking these precautions and choosing a legitimate pharmacy may not be enough. Buyers should also be aware that some fraudsters spoof legitimate websites to bilk unsuspecting customers. Patients should avoid following links provided in advertisements. It is safer to directly search for websites by entering the web address.