Buying drugs online

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What are illegitimate online drug sellers

A simple internet search will turn up hundreds of websites that sell drugs. Some websites are legitimate online pharmacies, while others may be operating illegally.

These illegitimate drug sellers may:

  • offer products and services that are dangerous
  • sell drugs that have not been authorized for use in Canada and that may pose safety concerns
  • offer prescription drugs based on answers to online questionnaires
  • take advantage of people who are desperate for relief by offering miracle cures for serious illnesses such as cancer
  • tell you they will save you the embarrassment of talking to your doctor about certain medical conditions (such as erectile dysfunction, hair or weight loss) or certain prescription drugs (such as Viagra)
  • refer to themselves as an online pharmacy when they have not been licensed by a Canadian pharmacy regulatory authority

Risks associated with buying drugs online

Buying drugs from illegitimate sellers, who may not provide a street address and telephone number, may pose serious health risks. You have no way of knowing:

  • where these companies are located
  • where they get their drugs from
  • what's in their drugs
  • how to reach them if there's a problem

The risks of ordering from these websites include getting:

  • drugs past their expiry date
  • drugs with dangerous additives
  • drugs with the wrong ingredients
  • counterfeit drugs with no active ingredients
  • drugs contaminated or adulterated with other drugs, such as a prescription drug or controlled substance

Even if these drugs do not harm you right away, your condition may get worse without effective treatment.

Illegitimate drug sellers do not tell you that it's dangerous to take a prescription drug without being assessed and monitored by a health care provider. Your provider is there to make sure the drug is helping you.

If you order prescription drugs without being assessed and monitored by a health care provider licensed to practise in Canada, you may be misdiagnosed. You would miss the opportunity to have an appropriate treatment for your medical condition. You may also put yourself at risk for drug interactions or harmful side effects that a qualified health care provider could warn you about.

Buying drugs from illegal online sellers may also pose financial risks. In some cases, the product may not be shipped at all. Or, if it's coming from another country, it could be stopped at the border by Canadian authorities.

Online pharmacies in Canada

In Canada, pharmacies and/or pharmacy owners are regulated by the pharmacy regulatory authority in the jurisdiction (province or territory) where the business is established. A legitimate pharmacy and/or pharmacy owner, including online pharmacies and owners of online pharmacies, will be:

  • licensed by the pharmacy regulatory authority in that jurisdiction
  • members of the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA)

Any pharmacy in Canada that offers online services must meet the standards of practice within its own jurisdiction.

If you have questions about whether an online pharmacy is legitimate:

Learn more:

Reducing your risk

Do not take any prescription drug that has not been prescribed for you by a licensed health care provider in Canada.

Do tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the health products you take, including vitamins and natural health products, as well as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. They need this information to assess and advise you about potential side effects and drug interactions.

If you decide to order drugs online:

Do not do business with a website that:

  • refuses to give you a street address, telephone number and a way to contact a pharmacist
  • offers prescription drugs without a prescription or offers to issue a prescription based on answers to an online questionnaire
  • claims to have a miracle cure for any serious condition
  • sells products that do not have a drug identification number (DIN) issued by Health Canada

Do make sure you're dealing with a Canadian-based website that:

  • is linked to a pharmacy physically located in Canada
    • also known as a "bricks-and-mortar" pharmacy
  • meets the regulatory requirements in your province or territory

Health Canada's role

Health Canada regulates therapeutic drugs in Canada through a rigorous licensing process. This process includes an extensive pre-market review and the ongoing post-market assessment of a drug's safety, effectiveness and quality. As part of this process, we:

  • conduct risk/benefit assessments
  • monitor adverse reactions
  • communicate information about risks to health care providers and the public

All drugs authorized for sale in Canada have an 8-digit DIN. This number means that we have assessed the drug and consider that its benefits outweigh its risks when used as directed on the label. The DIN is also a way to track adverse drug reactions.

We license and conduct regular inspections of companies that manufacture, import and/or distribute drugs. We also investigate complaints about the sale or use of therapeutic drugs, including complaints about websites that sell drugs. We take action where appropriate.

We also work with the Canada Border Services Agency to control the illegal entry of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Residents in Canada are allowed to import a 3-month supply of non-prescription drugs for personal use. They are generally not allowed to import prescription drugs ordered online or purchased abroad.

Learn more about the personal importation requirements for health products:

We're also responsible for ensuring compliance with the federal legislation (Food and Drugs Act and its regulations) that apply to drug and medical device advertising. Online pharmacies and drug sellers in Canada are subject to the Canadian federal legislation on advertising of health products.

You may report any suspicious online pharmacy advertising to us. Fill out and submit the online complaint form.

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