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Choosing a safe online pharmacy

Buying medicine online may seem convenient and cheap, but you could be putting your health at risk. While there are legitimate online pharmacies, there are also some that may be operating illegally.

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Buying your medicine from online pharmacies can be risky

Some pharmacy websites can look trustworthy when they are not.  It's important to always check to make sure an online pharmacy is legitimate.

An online pharmacy may be fraudulent if it:

  • Does not require a valid prescription
  • Offers drugs that claim to have a "miracle cure" for serious conditions
  • Offers drugs at very low, discounted prices
  • Can ship medicines worldwide
  • Does not provide a “bricks and mortar” business address
  • Is located outside of Canada

Did you know? 96% of online pharmacies globally, and 74% in North America, are not trustworthy.

74% of Canadian sites source medications from outside of Canada. Footnote 1

If you buy medicines from a fraudulent online pharmacy, you may be putting your health at risk:

  • You may end up with a drug that contains wrong or harmful ingredients, or no medicinal ingredients at all.
  • Your condition may remain the same or you may get worse.
  • You may experience a bad reaction to the medicine.
  • Your personal and banking information may be stolen.

Some online pharmacies claim to be licensed by a Canadian pharmacy regulatory authority when in fact they are not.

In Canada, the licensing of pharmacies and/or pharmacists is under the jurisdiction of provincial and territorial pharmacy regulatory authorities who are members of the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA).

Often medications taken by mouth or by injection require proper refrigeration.

Medicines sold in fraudulent online pharmacies may not be stored or transported properly.

Your online pharmacy may be legitimate if it:

  • Requires a valid prescription from a physician or other health practitioner licensed to practice in Canada.
  • Is licensed by a provincial or territorial  pharmacy regulatory authority in Canada
  • Has  Canadian-licensed pharmacist available to answer questions
  • Provides a street address located in Canada

What you should do

Checking the legitimacy of your online pharmacy

Two ways you can check if your online pharmacy is legitimate:

  • For websites listing a Canadian street address, check with the pharmacy regulatory authority for that province or territory to see if the pharmacy is licensed. For example, if the website provides a Quebec address as its pharmacy location,  check with the pharmacy regulatory authority of Quebec to see if the pharmacy owner is licensed. For a list of Canadian Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities, click here.
  • If no Canadian address is provided, check whether the online pharmacy is part of the Pharmacy Verified Websites Program, which is an American program  that helps  consumers identify safe and legitimate online pharmacies.

Reporting concerns

Report complaints about a health product purchased online to Health Canada using the health product complaint form. Report any adverse reactions to Health Canada through MedEffect Canada.

If you have a complaint about health products purchased online with a major credit card or debit, you may report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centreat fake@antifraudcentre.ca or faux@centreantifraude.ca. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, managed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with the Competition Bureau and Ontario Provincial Police, collects information regarding illegal sites to facilitate law enforcement action against unlawful operations.

Shipping medications across the border

If you are buying from websites located outside of Canada, know that there are restrictions when it comes to shipping medications across the border. You cannot legally import a prescription drug unless you are a practitioner, a drug manufacturer, a wholesale druggist, a registered pharmacist, or a resident of a foreign country while a visitor in Canada.

Special access to drugs and health products

If you’re tempted to buy a drug over the internet because it isn’t authorized in Canada, know that there may be another option.

In situations where you may require access to a medically-necessary drug for a serious or life-threatening condition where there is no market authorized drug available in Canada and for which alternative conventional therapies have failed or are unsuitable, Health Canada's Special Access Programme (SAP) is available to help your doctor gain access to these products on your behalf. More information on SAP can be found in the following link: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/special-access/drugs.html.

Health Canada's role

To minimize risks, Health Canada regulates health products sold in Canada to make sure they meet requirements for safety, effectiveness, and quality.

When Health Canada identifies unauthorized products that may pose serious health risks, Health Canada takes appropriate action and informs Canadians. This includes seizing unauthorized products and working with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to help prevent further importation of unauthorized products.

If you buy a prescription drug or any health product online that has not been authorized for sale in Canada, it may be refused entry or seized at the border. Health Canada continues to seize large quantities of unauthorized products at the border. Your package may be recommended for refusal to the CBSA or seized, if they are suspected to be:

  • Counterfeit
  • Adulterated (contains an ingredient not listed on the label)
  • Making false health claims
  • Not meeting personal or commercial importation requirements
Footnote 1

Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program. Progress Report for State and Federal Regulators: August 2017. <https://nabp.pharmacy/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Internet-Drug-Outlet-Report-August-2017.pdf>.

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