The Internet is the biggest unregulated market in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that over 50% of medicines purchased on the internet from sites that conceal their address may be counterfeit 1.
Many people are unaware that a large number of online pharmacies are not regulated and when purchasing medicines online and there is a very high chance that these medicines are falsified/substandard.Today, Canadians are easily able to access illegal online sites that facilitate the sale of falsified/substandard medications. There are various ways in which Canadian online pharmacies operate, with varying degrees of legality:
- Not licensed at All: Not licensed by a Canadian province at all, and may not even be located Canada; Selling foreign/unauthorized, counterfeit or otherwise illegal medicines.
- Licensed in Canada, but international misconduct: Licensed by a Canadian province but engaged in undetected, clandestine distribution of foreign/unauthorized, counterfeit or otherwise illegal medicines to U.S. and out-of-country consumers.
- Licensed in Canada, but intentionally ignoring standards and laws: Licensed by a Canadian province and selling medicines –which may be Health Canada-approved or may be foreign/unauthorized –into the U.S. upon receipt of an American prescription made legal by co-signing of a Canadian-licensed practitioner; Selling directly to the patient (including importation of drugs across international border).
- Licensed, Operating Legally: Licensed by a Canadian province and selling-Health Canada-approved medicines to Canadians
Health Canada, as the national drug regulatory authority, ensures compliance to the Food and Drugs Act and the Food and Drugs Regulations, with assistance from Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
- Health Canada Import/ Export Policy, effective June 15 2017: “Any internet sale or advertising of a health product to a foreign jurisdiction that does not comply with the Food and Drugs Act and/or its Regulation is prohibited.”
- Health Canada information about safe online purchase of medicines can be found at: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/buying-drugs-over-internet.html
- If you have a complaint about therapeutic products purchased online, contact Health Canada’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-267-9675.
- Health Canada information about safe online purchase of medical devices can be found at: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/healthy-living/your-health/medical-information/buying-medical-devices-over-internet.html
Health Canada Advisories
Over the years there have been several Health Canada advisories regarding the purchase of counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs. Below is a list of some advisories:
December 28, 2022
June 3, 2022
June 8, 2021
March 19, 2021
December 16, 2020
July 6, 2020
June 15, 2020
May 7, 2020
March 27, 2020
July 28, 2017
May 30, 2017
December 23, 2005
Health Canada advises consumers be cautious when buying Tamiflu online
Health Canada COVID-19 Advisories
August 5, 2022
June 17, 2021
April 7, 2021
Provincial Regulation and Enforcement
Regulations for international drug sales from licensed pharmacies can very greatly amongst the provinces. In general, internet pharmacies based in Canadian provinces are permitted but must:
- Be a licensed brick-and-motar pharmacy; and
- Display license number, address, phone number and contact information
Internet pharmacy businesses must comply with all federal and provincial practice laws and be available for on-site inspections by provincial colleges of pharmacy (boards) as part of an accredited pharmacy.
Contact information for provincial regulators can be found at: https://www.napra.ca/resources/pharmacy-regulatory-authorities/
Report a Suspicious Website
If you think a website is selling medicines illegally, contact Health Canada at 1-800-267-9675 and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, authorized by the Government of Canada and administered under the auspices of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Competition Bureau and Ontario Provincial Police, collects information regarding illegal sites to facilitate law enforcement action against unlawful operators.
Case on CanadaDrugs.com2
- 2015 U.S. federal indictment against a Canadian online drug distributor and related entities for conspiring to smuggle mislabeled and unapproved prescription drugs (and money laundering) into the United States.
- Indictment alleges $78 million worth of medications shipped to the U.S. by CanadaDrugs.com, some of which were counterfeit version of medicines meant to treat cancer.
- Canadian Court is currently reviewing the extradition of the Canadians, named in the US.
Operation Pangea is an international week of action tackling the online sale of counterfeit and illicit medicines and highlighting the dangers of buying medicines online. Coordinated by INTERPOL, the annual operation brings together customs, health regulators, national police and the private sector from countries around the world. Health Canada estimates value of suspected counterfeit and/or unlicensed health products by participating in Operation. Some highlights from the operation include:
- From October 2015 to March 2017, counterfeit prescription medicines seized at the Canadian border tripled from 1654 to 5282 products3. Counterfeit natural products, over-the-counter products and medical device products also increased.
- Between May 30 and June 7, 2016, Health Canada seized $2.5 million worth of counterfeit drugs4.
1 WHO. Growing threat from counterfeit medicines. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/4/10-020410/en/
2Canadian company charged in the U.S. with selling unapproved, counterfeit drugs. (2015). Retrieved from https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/international-business/us-business/canadian-company-charged-in-the-us-with-selling-unapproved-counterfeit-drugs/article25914756/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&
3 Forrest, M. (2017). Canada fights influx of fake Viagra, as erectile dysfunction creates ‘perfect storm’ for counterfeiters. Retrieved from http://nationalpost.com/news/politics/canada-fights-influx-of-fake-viagra-as-erectile-dysfunction-creates-perfect-storm-for-counterfeiters
4Health Canada. (2016). Operation Pangea highlights the dangers of buying health products online. Retrieved from http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2016/58816a-eng.php