Thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, use of online pharmacies grew 17%, and the online pharmaceutical market is expected to grow to $42.7 million by 2028, according to a report by Million Insights. Online pharmacies offer convenience, potential cost savings – but also open up opportunities for fraud and drug abuse for individuals who use easy online access to game the system – or even buy medicines from untrustworthy sites for medications they have never been prescribed.

Questions around drug use as an adjudicatively significant issue typically center around marijuana or drugs that are illegal at the federal level. But the adjudicative guideline includes any misuse of drugs – which would include prescription drug abuse.

“The misuse of prescription drugs is disclosable to the government when you’re applying to a security clearance and it is something that can preclude someone from getting¬† a security clearance just as cocaine, or heroine, or marijuana [can],” said security clearance attorney Sean Bigley.

The opioid epidemic has drawn attention to the perils even lawfully prescribed medications can cause. In many cases, individuals become addicted after being legally prescribed the medication. Once addicted, however, many individuals may end up shopping around to seek the painkillers to feed their addiction, or seeking online suppliers. The misuse of drugs also comes up with stimulants, with many young people swapping or trading pills in college. Any drug that’s used outside of its intent or prescription could trip up applicants.

Save Money, Cost Your Clearance

The growing costs of pharmaceuticals causes further issues for security clearance holders seeking to save money by purchasing drugs online. It may be very possible to find an online pharmacy offering prescribed medications at a lower price. But clearance holders should be incredibly cautious that those sites offering drugs at a discount are actually legitimate.

“What we’ve had some folks tell us is geez, I didn’t realize that this online pharmacy that I was purchasing drugs from isn’t legitimate’,” said Bigley.

Bigley offered several indicators your online pharmacy isn’t legit:

  • Poor English, poor spelling or grammar
  • Rudimentary website function
  • Payment by virtual currency
  • Cut-rate or volume pricing

If you find yourself considering purchasing a drug (any drug) online and it fits any of the criteria above, you may want to think twice. The drug you’re purchasing may not just be illegally entering the U.S., it may also be laced with toxins or substances that could cause you to pop hot on a drug test.

“Either way you’re taking a big risk putting any of that stuff in your body,” said Bigley. “If you take a drug test and you pop positive for any of the prohibited substances, there’s often very little we can do to mitigate that.”

You also have issues of drug trafficking if the drugs are picked up in transit to the U.S. and arriving with your name on them. You’re setting yourself up for legal, health, and security clearance issues.

How to Handle a Potential Drug Issue – Get Help

The government has worked hard to address mental health issues and display how getting help is actually a mitigating factor in the security clearance process. The same applies for potential drug issues. A current security clearance holder may be tempted to avoid seeking treatment, or going to a drug treatment facility – but doing so may be the very thing that could save a security clearance, a career, and an individual’s health.

“From a clearance standpoint it is far far easier for us to defend that,” emphasizes Bigley, noting that an individual with an active clearance whose dealing with drug issues can take proactive steps like agreeing to regular drug testing. Admitting you’ve had an issue with prescription pain killers and are seeking help can be seen as a mitigating factor. “That’s something that threads the needle sometimes and gets the job done versus the government finding out the hard way ‘oh, we found him slumped over on his steering wheel on his lunch break because he overdosed.’ Good luck with that, that’s not a winnable case, typically. Proactivity is the way to go here.”


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.