Online Pharmacies

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 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

  1. Look up the Canadian business address on the online pharmacy’s website (usually found on the home or contact page). There may be additional information provided such as a pharmacy licence number, the pharmacy regulatory authority that provides the licence, contact telephone number and email address.
  2. 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 in 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: The pharmacy regulatory authority in Quebec, the Ordre des pharmaciens du Québec (OPQ), licenses pharmacy owners rather than pharmacies. Those looking to verify a pharmacy located in Quebec should thus check to see if the pharmacy owner is licensed by the OPQ (information provided in French).

2. Verification Through NABP’s Healthcare Merchant Accreditation Program

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), NAPRA’s counterpart in the United States, recognizes safe and legitimate healthcare merchants, including online pharmacies, through its Healthcare Merchant Accreditation program. Online pharmacies that are accredited through the program are required to maintain an active “.pharmacy” domain name (e.g., via NABP’s .Pharmacy Registry. This provides consumers an easy way to identify legitimate online pharmacies that are properly licensed and adhere to all applicable laws and NABP’s standards.

A Canadian pharmacy (or pharmacy owner, in the case of Quebec) 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). Consumers can safely transact with online pharmacies that have achieved NABP Healthcare Merchant Accreditation.

Consumers may use the search tool on NABP’s website to verify whether an online pharmacy has been reviewed and, if so, if it has been confirmed to be safe to use.

Additional Resources

Health Canada also offers guidance to help consumers choose a safe online pharmacy.

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. ASOP Canada provides information on buying medicines online in Canada and on how to spot a legitimate online pharmacy.