The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) is often asked how members of the public can tell if a specific Canadian online pharmacy is legitimate.
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.
There are two ways to verify the legitimacy of a Canadian online pharmacy:
1. Verification with a Canadian Pharmacy Regulatory Authority
The first step is to determine the Canadian business address of the online pharmacy (usually found in “Home” or “Contact Us” page) and then visit the pertinent website of the pharmacy regulatory authority in the province or territory in which the online pharmacy is located to find out if the pharmacy is licensed. For example, if an online pharmacy has a Manitoba-based address, one would go to the Pharmacy Public Register page of the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba’s website to verify that it is licensed by the pharmacy regulatory authority.
Note: If the pharmacy is 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. 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 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.
A few of the cautions to heed as consumers assess the legitimacy of an online pharmacy are:
• The online pharmacy offers to sell prescription drugs without a valid prescription authorized by a Canadian practitioner. It is illegal for pharmacies to sell prescription drugs without a valid prescription from a practitioner licensed in Canada.
• The online pharmacy does not provide a Canadian business address and telephone number. It is important to make sure that an online pharmacy is linked to a storefront in Canada that meets the requirements of the pharmacy regulatory authority in the province or territory in which it operates.
• The online pharmacy does not make available a Canadian-licensed pharmacist to answer questions during regular business hours. A legitimate pharmacy will always have a Canadian-licensed pharmacist on duty to answer questions regarding the prescribed drugs, provide instructions and make any recommendations (e.g., how to avoid side effects, etc.) as needed.
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.