Canada

Buying Medicines Online in Canada

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. Licensed, Operating Legally: Licensed by a Canadian province and selling-Health Canada-approved medicines to Canadians

Health Canada

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 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: 

Advisories:

June 8, 2021

Be Informed: know the potential risks of buying health products online 

March 19, 2021

Counterfeit 3M N95 respirators

December 16, 2020

Health Canada warns Canadians not to buy COVID-19 vaccines sold online or from unauthorized sources

July 6, 2020

Counterfeit respirators 

June 15, 2020

Health products that make false or misleading claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 may put your health at risk

May 7, 2020

Unauthorized test kits claiming to diagnose or detect COVID-19 put your health at risk

April 14, 2020
Fraudulent and unauthorized N95 respirators may not protect consumers against COVID-19

March 27, 2020

Health products that make false or misleading claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 may put your health at risk

July 28, 2017

Unauthorized prescription drug “Selekta Pregnenolone” sold online by A.N. Tyler Distributing may pose serious health risks

May 30, 2017

Multiple unauthorized L-tryptophan and lithium orotate products sold on amazon.ca may pose serious health risks. 

June 22, 2012
Counterfeit Drugs May Pose Serious Dangers to Your Health

November 3, 2010
Warning about Buying Prescription Drugs Online from: www.northdrugmart.com, www.northdrugstore.com, and www.pharmacyrxworld.com

July 27, 2010
Canada Warns Canadians about Buying Prescription Drugs Online from globalpharmacy.com

November 4, 2009
Consumers Warned Against Buying Fraudulent H1N1 Flu Virus Products Online

August 7, 2009
Health Canada Reminds Consumers About the Risks of Buying Drugs Online

May 3, 2009
Consumers Advised Against Counterfeit and Unapproved H1N1 Flu Virus (Human Swine Flu) Products

August 15, 2009
Health Canada reminds consumers about the risks of buying drugs online

March 28, 2006
Health Canada advises consumers against counterfeit and unapproved avian flu products

December 23, 2005
Health Canada advises consumers be cautious when buying Tamiflu online

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.

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 fake@antifraudcentre.ca or faux@centreantifraude.ca. 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.

Cases

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

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