It is becoming easier and easier to buy prescription drugs online and a quick internet search will turn up hundreds, if not thousands, of websites selling prescription drugs. While purchasing prescription drugs online may seem convenient and cheap, it may expose consumers to serious health risks as both legitimate and illegitimate outlets operate online.
In Canada, pharmacies and/or pharmacy owners are regulated by the pharmacy regulatory authority in the jurisdiction (province or territory) where the business is established. A legitimate pharmacy and/or pharmacy owner – including online pharmacies and owners of online pharmacies – will thus be licensed by the pharmacy regulatory authority in that province or territory.
Some websites that offer prescription drugs for sale will claim to be licensed by a Canadian pharmacy regulatory authority when in fact they are not. Below are two methods to verify the legitimacy of a Canadian online pharmacy.
1. Verification with a Canadian Pharmacy Regulatory Authority
- Look up the Canadian business address on the online pharmacy’s website (usually found in “Home” or “Contact Us” page). There may be additional information provided such as a pharmacy licence number, the College that provides the licence, contact telephone number and email address.
- Visit the website of the pharmacy regulatory authority in the province or territory where the online pharmacy has established its business to find out if the pharmacy is licensed.
For example, if the online pharmacy indicates it is located at 123 Any Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, one would go to the Pharmacy Public Register page of the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba’s website to confirm the pharmacy is licensed to operate in Manitoba.
Note: If the pharmacy is located in Quebec, buyers should check to see if the pharmacy owner is licensed by the pharmacy regulatory authority in Quebec.
2. Verification Through the .Pharmacy Verified Websites Program
The legitimacy of an online pharmacy may also be confirmed through the .Pharmacy Verified Websites Program, a website verification program administered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), which is NAPRA’s counterpart in the United States. This verification program permits the use of a “.pharmacy” domain name extension (e.g., www.PharmacyName.pharmacy) to online pharmacies and online sources of pharmacy information that are properly licensed and adhere to all applicable laws and standards. A Canadian pharmacy and/or pharmacy owner must be licensed in one of the provinces or territories of Canada to be considered for a “.pharmacy” domain (though not all licensed online pharmacies acquire this specialized domain extension) and consumers can safely transact with pharmacies listed on the verified list.
Consumers may also visit the NABP’s safe.pharmacy website where they can search for an online pharmacy’s site to verify if it has been reviewed and is safe to use.
NAPRA is a key partner with NABP for the .Pharmacy Verified Websites Program in Canada. Any Canadian pharmacy business or organization seeking to obtain a “.pharmacy” domain name can apply through the .Pharmacy Verified Websites Program website. As the program continues to grow and gain recognition by the public, it will become an increasingly valuable means of identifying safe and legitimate online pharmacies and information sources for the public.
A further source of reliable guidance on safe online pharmacies is the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) which is active in numerous jurisdictions internationally, including Canada.
Health Canada also offers guidance to help consumers choose a safe online pharmacy.