Tips for Safely Buying Medicine Online

In Canada, it is possible to buy medicines online. Patients should only buy medicines from online retailers registered in Canada, to ensure the products they purchase are legitimate and are coming from an authorize seller of prescription medicines.

The Government of Canada has provided some tips to minimize the potential risks associated with buying drugs online and recommends the following:

  • Patients do not do business with a website that:
    • Refuses to give you a street address, telephone number, and a way of contacting a pharmacist;
    • Offers prescription drugs without a prescription, or offers to issue a prescription based on answers to an on-line questionnaire;
    • Claims to have a “miracle cure” for any serious condition; or
    • Sells products that do not have a DIN (see below) issued by Health Canada.
  • Make sure you are dealing with a Canadian-based website that is linked to a “bricks and mortar” pharmacy that meets the regulatory requirements in your province/territory.

You may have done all that you can to establish that the website you are buying your medicines from is legitimate. As a next step, you must check the medicine itself A simple checklist is provided below:

ASOP Canada Purchasing Medicine Safely: A Guide
Did you know there are more than 35,000 online pharmacies at any given time around the world, but only 1400 of those sites are safe and legal. What does that mean? Read more to find out!

Le saviez-vous qu’il existe plus de 35,000 pharmacies en ligne dans le monde, à tout moment, mais seulement 1400 de ces sites Web sont sécuritaires et légitimes. Qu’est-ce que cela signifie? Lire la suite ici!

Check the Packaging:

  1. Familiarize yourself with every aspect of the packaging, the blister-pack (if there is one) and the medicine itself
  2. Each time you renew your prescription, compare these aspects against your previous pack. You are looking for even the tiniest difference in clarity of print, colour, seals, etc.
  3. Check that the medicine is in date and that the dosage is correct. Check that it has a patient information leaflet in the correct language

If you notice any differences in appearance, report them to your pharmacist and (the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) or Health Canada at 1-800-267-9675 ) straight away.

Check the Medicine:

  1. Check carefully that it is consistent in colour and texture with your previous prescription
  2. Does it crumble?
  3. Does the colour differ from your normal medicine?
  4. Does it smell or taste different?

Think about keeping a diary of effects/side effects. If your medicine does not seem to be working as normal or if you notice new (or absent) side effects, you must report these to your doctor.

If you think you have received a falsified medicine, please report this to your doctor (for a replacement) and Health Canada at 1-800-267-9675.

If you have a complaint about therapeutic products purchased online with a major credit card, you may be entitled to a refund. Cases can be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre or to facilitate a refund. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre will not withhold your personal medical information. 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.

Resources to Help Patients Safely Buy Medicine Online

In 2009, the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines (EAASM) released A patient’s guide to fake medicines provides tools for patients to remain safe, vigilant and aware of fake (counterfeit) medicines that are sold to patients. While the guide was originally developed for the EU market, the resources are equally relevant for Canada:

Here are some tips to help for you to avoid purchasing fake medications online1:

      • Check the URL (website address). When you click on the name of a pharmacy in your search results, does the same name appear in the address bar on your browser? If not be very wary.


      • Does the online pharmacy have a physical address? Does this place actually exist? In most countries where online pharmacy is legal, the existence of a bricks and mortar pharmacy is a requirement. Where is this pharmacy? Does it profess to be in, for example, the UK? If so, why not use Google Maps or Streetview to see if you can see it? Try the telephone number (if there is one). Is it answered? If so, does the respondent answer using the name of the pharmacy, or some general greeting?


      • Is it registered with the National Competent Authority? Check to make sure your pharmacy is a licensed Canadian website at You can search registered pharmacies by province. Registrations have been faked in the past.


      • Who is the pharmacist? Most countries require a named pharmacist to be associated with the website, and named on it. You can also check this person’s registration.


      • Does the online pharmacy require a valid prescription? If, instead, it offers an “online consultation” (which is only legal in some countries) what steps are taken to ensure that the medicine is right for you (pharmacists are required to carry out such checks)?


      • Product information. Does the website offer you patient information on how to store and take the medicine, side effects or interactions, or how to dispose of unused medicines?


      • BOGOF!! Common sense would probably dictate that if a website offers a BOGOF (buy-one-get-one-free) or mix-n-match schemes, it is probably not a legitimate pharmacy.


      • Online pharmacies are not all operated by criminals! If you are satisfied you have found a good online source for your medicine and decide to go ahead and order, it’s important that you continue to be vigilant once it arrives. Once the package arrives check the packaging, see “How to Stay Vigilant Online” for tips to make sure that the package that arrives contains genuine and safe medicine.

Spotting a Fake

Spotting a fake medicine can be extremely difficult, even for the experts. Our colleagues at ASOP EU have created a simple example of how difficult it can be to spot a fake drug. Test your knowledge and learn more here.

Additional Resources

  1. HealthLink BC provides access to non-emergency health information and advice in British Columbia, this link provides information on how patients can safely buy drugs online in Canada
  2. You can find extra tips from the Partnership for Safe Medicines, to help you stay safe, by clicking here.
  3. A Patient’s Guide to Avoiding Counterfeit Drugs in Pharmaceutical Anti-Counterfeiting: Combating the Real Danger from Fake Drugs.