Internet Pharmacies

Published: May 11, 2012

Legislative References: Drug and Pharmacies Regulation Act (1990)

Additional references:

College Contact: Pharmacy Practice


Background:

The internet is not regulated and anyone can create a website or put information on the web. Purchasing drugs over the internet began around the year 2000 as a result of the prescription price discrepancies between the U.S. and Canada, resulting in demand for lower cost drugs from Canada. The huge difference in the relative value of the U.S. and Canadian dollar contributed to this trend.

Canada is recognized as having one of the safest drug distribution systems, an established generic drug industry, and for the regulation of drug prices. A number of international entrepreneurs have created websites that claim to be from Ontario or Canada by using false or misleading information displaying Canadian addresses; however, the actual sites and servers are located in different parts of the world. Buying drugs online from unregulated sites can pose serious health and financial risks for patients.


Drug and Pharmacies Regulation Act s. 139(1)
“No person shall establish or operate a pharmacy unless a certificate of accreditation has been issued in respect thereof.”


Requirements for any Pharmacy to operate in Ontario:

  1. A certificate of accreditation issued by the Ontario College of Pharmacists;
  2. Certificates of accreditation are issued only to “bricks and mortar” pharmacies, and are not issued to stand-alone virtual or online pharmacies;
  3. A pharmacy website that indicates it is based in Ontario must be operated by an accredited Ontario pharmacy, overseen by a pharmacist licensed in Ontario;

Risks for Patients:

  • Websites that are not linked to a legally operated pharmacy may sell drugs that are not approved for use in Canada and which may pose a health risk.
  • Some website operators of illegally operated pharmacies may take advantage of desperate patients who are eager for symptom relief or who may feel embarrassed speaking to a physician about a medical concern. It is dangerous to take a prescription drug without being examined in person and monitored by a regulated health care professional.
  • There is no way of knowing where illegally operated pharmacies are located, where they get their drugs, what is in the drugs being marketed, and how the drugs are stored.
  • A patient may receive medications from illegally operated pharmacies that contain no active ingredient, contain the wrong ingredients or dangerous additives, or drugs that are past their expiry date, or which have been counterfeited.
  • There are financial risks involved, as the product purchased through an illegally operated pharmacy may not be shipped at all, or stopped at the border by Canadian or U.S. customs officials or the Food and Drug Administration. It is also dangerous to give out financial information over the Internet to unknown sources.

Advice for patients looking for a pharmacy operating a website:

  • Avoid websites that cannot be authenticated by a licensing body, and which do not provide contact information (street address, phone number, or contact information for the pharmacist);
  • Avoid websites where the pharmacist cannot be directly contacted, identified, and verified;
  • Avoid websites that offer to prescribe medication without a prescription or assessment by a licensed physician;
  • If a website requires a letter from your physician, ensure your physician can contact and authenticate the party requesting information; and
  • Avoid websites that offer to sell prescription drugs that are not manufactured or approved for sale in Canada.

Verifying Pharmacy Websites:

  • Ontario
    • A list of all licensed pharmacists and accredited pharmacies is public information and is available on the Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP) website:
  • Out of Province
    • A pharmacy website that indicates it is based elsewhere in Canada or the U.S. must display the proper credentials confirming that it is licenced and regulated.
    • Contact the local College of Pharmacists in that province or territory directly;
    • The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities provides information on the websites and contact information for the licensing body in each province.
  • United States

Resources for reporting fraudulent internet pharmacies or websites: