Real talk: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are super common in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 5 people have an STI.
While treatments can help make certain STIs undetectable or wipe them out altogether, getting those meds can be a bit… awkward.
The uncomfortable reality of chatting with the pharmacist about a prescription for an STI (one of the “most tabooed diseases”) while within earshot of nosy shoppers at the drugstore is enough to make some people avoid treatment altogether. (We’re cringing just thinking about it.)
But we have some good news: You can skip that unpleasant trip to the pharmacy and instead get your STI meds delivered right to your home. That way, no one (except your doctor) has to know you’re taking them.
Here’s what you need to know about ordering STI meds online — and ending pharmacy awkwardness once and for all.
In a nutshell, online pharmacies work just like retail pharmacies: You (or your doctor) send in your prescription, and the pharmacy gets those meds ready for you. The main difference is that your meds are sent right to your mailbox, so you don’t have to schlep to the store.
But let’s back up. There are essentially two different kinds of online pharmacies.
These are typically owned and managed by pharmacy benefit managers, who negotiate drug prices on behalf of large employers, health insurance companies, or other payers.
This category also includes the online pharmacies of brick-and-mortar retail chains like CVS.
Your insurance may have a partnership with a specific mail-order pharmacy, which you can find on your insurer’s website. Other online pharmacies will list which types of insurance they take.
Once the mail-order pharmacy receives your prescription, they’ll box it up and snail-mail it to your address. Easy-peasy.
Independent online pharmacies
These pharmacies are not associated with specific health plans, and they may or may not accept your insurance. Sometimes they will source less expensive drugs from other countries.
Sketchy behavior at some independent online pharmacies has earned them a less-than-stellar reputation, so proceed with caution (or better yet, go with the pharmacy your health insurance company recommends).
As long as you have a prescription, you can get most kinds of STI meds from mail-order pharmacies.
STIs like syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea are bacterial infections that may be treated with antibiotics that come as pills or creams. Some of the common antibiotics for STIs are azithromycin (Zithromax), ceftriaxone (Rocephin), benzylpenicillin (Penicillin G), and clindamycin.
However, some STIs are treated with antibiotic injections rather than pills. To get those, you’ll need to go to a healthcare facility.
STIs caused by viruses — like herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and HIV — are usually managed with antiviral or antiretroviral medications such as acyclovir (Zovirax), podophyllotoxin (Condylox), and enfuvirtide (Fuzeon).
HIV prevention medications
These meds are also called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. This once-a-day pill is a way for people who don’t have HIV to avoid getting it if they have known risk factors, such as use of injected drugs or sexual activity with multiple partners.
While it may seem like a pain to transfer your prescriptions to an online pharmacy, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results. Here are a few of the benefits of switching to a mail-order pharmacy for your STI meds.
They’re super discreet
The most obvious benefit is that you don’t have to leave your home or chat with the pharmacist in person to get your meds. They’ll ship ’em right to your door, often in a discreet box.
So, the chances of anyone seeing what kind of medicine you’re taking — or of running into someone you know at the pharmacy — will be much lower (phew!).
You might save money
Your medications may actually cost less if you use a mail-order pharmacy.
The idea behind pharmacy benefit managers is that they negotiate with drug companies to get you (and your insurance company) the best price. They can then pass along those savings to people who use their online mail-order pharmacy.
Plus, these pharmacies don’t have to pay to keep retail stores running, which helps them lower the prices of drugs.
Just make sure the price isn’t too good to be true, because that could mean the online pharmacy isn’t legit (more on that later).
There’s a serious convenience factor to using a mail-order pharmacy.
For one thing, no visit to the pharmacy is required, which is great if you’re housebound, you’re quarantining, you have mobility difficulties, or you just don’t feel like making the trip.
They’re also open 24/7 — you can place your order at 2 a.m. if you want.
Plus, forgetting to pick up your refills is a thing of the past if you use mail-order pharmacies. They often use an auto-shipping schedule, so you won’t even have to remember when it’s time to go get more meds — they’ll just show up.
You can buy in bulk
Many mail-order online pharmacies will fill your prescription as a 90-day supply rather than the standard 30-day supply.
This is super helpful if you’re going to be out of town for a bit or just don’t want to worry about your meds for a few months.
They can answer your questions (privately!)
Sure, you might not want to have a face-to-face convo with a pharmacist about your STI meds, but sometimes questions pop up.
Fortunately, legit online pharmacies have qualified staff on hand to answer any questions you have about your treatments.
So if you do want to talk to a pharmacist, you can — in the privacy of your own home. You can usually reach them by phone, email, and/or live chat.
Like anything else on the internet, ordering your meds online requires you to be a bit savvy to avoid a sketchy situation.
A number of illegal, or “rogue,” online pharmacies look legit — they often have websites that seem like the real deal — but research shows that they don’t meet national or international regulations and aren’t subject to regulatory review.
Sometimes these pharmacies sell dubious or even dangerous medications that are counterfeit, substandard, or just fake. These could contain harmful ingredients, be dosed incorrectly, or be missing active ingredients, leaving you without the treatment you need.
But just because there are a few bad apples doesn’t mean it’s not safe to get mail-order meds. You just need to do your homework to make sure the pharmacy does things by the book.
If the pharmacy is offering deals that seem too good to be true, that’s a sign that it might not be trustworthy. The same goes if the pharmacy is selling miracle cures that just aren’t rooted in science, or if it doesn’t require a prescription (sketchy!).
You’ll also want to avoid pharmacies that claim they can ship to any country around the world. For the most part, it’s illegal to order meds from other countries for personal use in the United States, and it’s very, very difficult to determine where a foreign pharmacy is located.
Stick to mail-order pharmacies based in the good ol’ USA to be safe.
So, how do you know if an online pharmacy is legit?
Start by checking the pharmacy’s license through your state board of pharmacy.
Legitimate online pharmacies in the United States are verified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) and will have the Digital Pharmacy Accreditation.
The NABP participates in the Pharmacy Verified Websites Program, in which all verified sites have a corresponding “.pharmacy” address to show they’re safe. You can check whether a pharmacy complies by changing “.com” to “.pharmacy” in the website address.
You can also use the FDA’s BeSafeRx to double-check that an online pharmacy is real.
If all that checks out, make sure the pharmacy:
- requires a prescription from a healthcare professional
- lists a physical address and telephone number in the United States
- has a licensed pharmacist available to answer questions
Another option: Ask your health insurance provider. Its website should be able to direct you to a mail-order pharmacy that’s been vetted.
If you’re looking for a convenient and (most importantly) private way to get your STI meds, an online pharmacy may be the way to go.
These pharmacies can ship your STI meds directly to your door, saving you the awkwardness of running into someone you know at the drugstore.
Just make sure you order your meds from a legit online pharmacy that’s verified by the NABP, the FDA, or your health insurance company.