Illegal marketing of prescription drugs

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Prescription drugs

Prescription drugs consist of pharmaceutical and biological drug products for human or veterinary use which need a prescription in order to be dispensed to a patient or a caregiver.

Prescription drugs may:

  • pose a high level of risk
  • not have been on the market for a long period of time
  • have a narrow margin of safety between therapeutic and toxic doses
  • require individualized instructions and/or direct practitioner supervision

Requirements to advertise prescription drugs in Canada

The advertising of prescription drugs is regulated in Canada under the:

  • Food and Drugs Act
  • Food and Drug Regulations

Health Canada has a policy specifically for health care providers about advertising of prescription drugs to consumers. There is also a list of questions and answers to address frequently asked questions.

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What to watch for in prescription drug advertising

Direct-to-consumer marketing of prescription drugs is restricted. Any drug product listed in the Prescription Drug List is subject to Section C.01.044 of the Food and Drug Regulations. This prohibits advertising prescription drugs to consumers beyond:

  • name
  • price
  • quantity


Botox is an example of a prescription drug which may be marketed to consumers by health care providers and clinics. No direct or indirect reference can be made to its therapeutic use and/or benefits.

Commonly encountered marketing issues identified with Botox include:

  • videos describing the procedures
  • before and after treatment pictures
  • pictures alluding to the indications of the drug
  • testimonials regarding the therapeutic benefits

How health care providers can help stop illegal marketing

Health care providers and their clinics also participate in advertising prescription drugs such as Botox to the public.

Health care providers can help stop illegal marketing by:

  • not engaging in illegal advertising as described above
  • reporting it to Health Canada

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