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Why You Can’t Buy Over-the-Counter Antibiotics

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Ever wonder why you can’t just walk into your local drugstore and purchase antibiotics over the counter whenever you get sick? Although antibiotics have played a major role in modern medicine in controlling the impact of pathogens, in recent years antibiotic resistance has become a global problem and an increasing concern within the medical community. According to the Institute of Medicine and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, today antibiotic resistance is considered a threat to U.S. public health. While many initiatives have focused on mitigating antibiotic prescriptions written by physicians, with the advent of the Internet and online pharmacy stores patients are increasingly choosing to self-medicate with antibiotics, which is not only illegal but also dangerous. Here’s a closer look at some of the main reasons why you can’t buy antibiotics without a prescription in the U.S.

It’s Illegal

In the United States, it is illegal to use prescription drugs (including antibiotics) without a valid prescription, and consequences for breaking these laws can result in jail time. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), for the prescription to be “valid,” there must be a real doctor–patient relationship in place, which by most state laws requires a physical exam. Thus, prescriptions written by cyber doctors who rely on online contact are not considered valid under law.

In addition, according to a law enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s illegal for Americans to order drugs from any pharmacy located out of the U.S., including Canada or Mexico. One of the most important reasons is that with imported drugs the FDA has no control over the chain of custody and thus how safe the drug is for the consumer. (There is an exemption for “personal importation” of a drug not approved in the U.S. if it will be used to treat a serious disease.)

It’s Dangerous

The American Medical Association has condemned the practice of cyber doctors issuing prescriptions online as unacceptable medical care. There are a wide range of concerns with this practice that could pose a danger to patients and consumers. Antibiotics and other drugs delivered from these websites may be the wrong drugs, adulterated or expired, or the wrong dosage strength.

Even if you do get the correct drug and right dosage in an untainted form, serious side effects can occur with antibiotic use that can be complicated if there is no direct physician oversight. Since antibiotics are in essence toxins, they have the potential to do damage directly to the human body while fighting the infection. Thus, there are risks involved that need to be monitored to ensure patient safety.

It’s Bad for Public Health

Every time an antibiotic is used to fight an infection, there is a chance that some bacteria will be resistant to that drug and survive. These bacteria can then pass on their immunity, and in this way antibiotic resistance can spread. Theoretically, if this immunity were to spread throughout the entire bacterial population, then that antibiotic would no longer be effective. Restrictions on over-the-counter antibiotics in the U.S. are in place to minimize the rate at which bacterial resistance can be developed.


The one exception for legal over-the-counter antibiotic drugs is topical antibiotic creams and gels. Since these medication s act mostly outside the body, side effects are less of an issue and they are less risky overall.


Nothing in this article is intended to be medical advice. Consult your doctor before making any health decisions.

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