Getting cheaper prescription drugs via online Canadian pharmacies

John’s written a lot about how overpriced some prescription drugs are in the US compared to places like France. What a lot of people don’t know is that there are reputable Canadian pharmacies that offer prescriptions at a much lower cost than US pharmacies.

Just for fun, I checked three different prescription medications at three of the Canadian pharmacies listed below. Depending on the pharmacy, the drug and dose, these pharmacies were about 15-45% cheaper than pharmacies on the US east coast.

There is a catch, however, to using Canadian pharmacies online. You have to sniff them out to be sure that the “pharmacies” in question are legit.

First, a small caveat. I’m not necessarily recommending that you go shop for prescription medicine at an online Canadian pharmacy. Technically it may, or may not, be permitted under US law to get your prescriptions this way (though people have been doing it for years).  I am simply giving advice as to how one can better confirm if the pharmacies in question, and the drugs they sell, are legit.  Obviously I make no guarantees that, even following the advice in this post, you will find a reputable pharmacy and/or reputable prescription drugs in Canada. So proceed skeptically, and at your own risk.

On to the advice.

Beware of “no prescription necessary” pharmacies

First, any pharmacy that says something like “no doctor’s prescription necessary” is, in my view, a scam. Reputable Canadian pharmacies ALWAYS require a prescription for any drug that would require a prescription in the US.

Second, beware of any pharmacy that tells you that their “doctors” will write your script for you. No thank you.

Third, feel free to call the pharmacy and ask who the manufacturer is of the drug you’re interested in, and see if it’s the same manufacturer that makes the same drug here in the US. (FYI: Even some US-sold drugs may be made in other countries, but the FDA has to approve that.)

If the company won’t tell you who the manufacturer is, or says “we shop for the best price and change often,” walk away and don’t buy from them.

Check with Canada’s National Association of Boards of Pharmacy

There are at least two groups in Canada that certify which pharmacies are real, licensed, Canadian pharmacies – though I don’t know how reputable those are.  Some “Canadian” pharmacies are actually located in Mexico, or in someone’s garage in Indiana. They simply register their Web site in Canada – and voilà! – they appear to be a “Canadian” prescription drug provider, even if they’re really not.

Now, while being on one of the “certified” lists doesn’t PROVE that a Canadian pharmacy won’t swindle you, it does show that they meet the standards of the provincial government.

One site you can use is the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA).  They list member-pharmacies that are supposedly registered and licensed in Canada.  However, this association sounds like it could be more of a trade group that promotes its member pharmacies (who must pay CIPA to become members of its site).  I’m not sure how accurate their listings are.  I’d tend, instead, to use the Canadian National Boards of Pharmacy site (below), which is part of the pharmacy licensing system of the Canadian government.

Canadian-online-pharmaciesCanada’s National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is the easier (and probably more accurate) way, in my opinion, to verify that a pharmacy is licensed, and really in Canada.

You simply go to the site, and once you know what province the pharmacy is in, you click to the province’s “Board of Pharmacy” and then look at the provincial board’s member list and see if your particular pharmacy is listed there. If the pharmacy is listed there, and has the designation “IPS” after its name, it means that it has experience with international retailing.

For example, I looked through the pharmacies in the Canadian province of Manitoba, and these pharmacies in Manitoba are licensed to sell internationally (I know this, because of the IPS in their listing):

 AccessCanadaDrugMart (see Medi North Pharmacy) Licence #32386 IPS
AccuScreen (see TheCanadianPharmacy.com) Licence #32588 IPS
Dispensary Logistics (see Providen Pharmacy Logistics) Licence #32836
Muskehki Pharmacy (see NorthMart Pharmacy) Licence #33444
Prairie Rx (see CanadaDrugs.com) Licence #32195 IPS
Thrifty Meds Now (see Ellis Pharmacy) Licence #32713 IPS
You! Drug Store (see You! Drug Mart) Licence #33826 IPS

(Please note that I am NOT recommending any of the above pharmacies. This is just a reproduction of the ones shown on the Manitoba Board of Pharmacy Web site, to show you the kind of information they have there.)

You can search the Board of Pharmacy of any of the provinces in Canada to find accredited pharmacies in that province.

One more thing.  Not all provinces specify if a pharmacy is an IPS.  But at the very least, you can check to see if the pharmacy in question is physically located in Canada, and licensed – both are a step forward.

If you think you’ve been cheated, file a complaint

If after all of your due diligence, you feel the pharmacy has tried to pull something sneaky on you, you can always report them to the provincial Board of Pharmacy. If the Canadian Boards of Pharmacy are as rigid as the US ones, the pharmacy will do whatever it can to not be reported.

One last warning.  Buying drugs out of country is generally illegal for use in the US. But, the FDA has said that for small quantities of meds (e.g., 90-day supply or less, and NOT OPIOIDS or similar controlled substances), they won’t prosecute. So don’t buy more than a 90 day supply, as that could leave you open to prosecution.

Again, I can’t, and won’t, promise that you’ll find what you’re looking for at Canadian online pharmacies, but many people use them, and claim to have had good experiences.  The trick is to do your due diligence. Hopefully this information is a way to at least begin doing just that.


Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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