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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  • http://sexologs.com/ Omen

    I think people buy medications online from Canadian pharmacies like bestcanadianpharmacy.org/?455 because they don’t have prescription

  • Hue-Man

    Earlier this month: “Last week Canada’s Supreme Court ruled
    that doctors could not unilaterally ignore a Toronto family’s decision
    to keep their near-dead husband and father on life support. In the same
    breath, however, the court also confirmed that, under the laws of
    Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, a group of
    government-appointed adjudicators could yet overrule the family’s
    choice. That tribunal, not the family or the doctors, has the ultimate
    power to pull the plug.”

    “When these family members disagree with a [comatose] patient’s doctors, and when the doctors are nonetheless determined to act, the dispute generally goes to court, where it can take months or even years to resolve.”

    “In Ontario, by contrast, the provincial legislature decided in 1996 to
    create a quasijudicial tribunal, the Consent and Capacity Board, to make
    these life-and-death decisions more quickly. If a patient’s substitute
    decision maker withholds consent, then doctors may apply to the
    board—comprised of lawyers, mental health professionals, and community
    members—for a determination that the proposed treatment is in the
    patient’s best interest. If so, the board has the power to consent on
    the patient’s behalf.” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2013/10/canada_has_death_panels_and_that_s_a_good_thing.html

    Canada’s right-wing newspaper National Post has a special report in anticipation of Halloween and All Saints Day: “The complete special issue: How We Die Now” http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/10/25/the-full-death-issue-how-we-die-now/

  • Moderator3

    Proofreading can be your friend.

  • cole3244

    what would you know about open minded folks, nice talking points though.

  • stargazeman

    oh please—-quit pushing things—let the people decide…go ask them what they think after this week instead of the near month ago poll you reference…the week of the obamacare sign up site…my god…Rahm Emmanuels brother is the architecht of ObamaCare, and we all know how badly the City of Chicago is run..imagine whats behind the curtain, once you get past they web site sign up process…tell you what, you sign your mother up first, than have her tell us how she likes it–and if she isnt still alive, find an elderly female relative to send to—let them go first and then tell us all about it.

    Are you going to speak to the “death panels” that are in Canada?…yes, Palin was right—they have them in Canada, only called a different name in the “process”—the State having the right to overule a family’s end of life decisions on a loved one—based on, you guess it—costs….Kool Aid Left drinker coming here telling us like a Jim Jones—quicky now, drink the kool aid…guy like this get us all killed…

  • stargazeman

    why canadians flock her for surgery? speak to the wait times please…and speak to the cost here vs there please—then let open minded folks truly decide…this preaching at the right stuff has grown tiresome and predictable—much like Jim Crow laws…just stop it. Now please answer the questions on; wait time, and cost comparisons….

  • http://www.israelpharm.com/ The IsraelPharm Team

    Yikes! Ours get to you in 7-10 business days from when they ship. Three weeks seems like an unnecessary wait.

  • The IsraelPharm Team

    Don’t forget about us! We’re a reliable pharmacy in Israel that is monitored and regulated by the Israeli Ministry of Health. You’ve provided some great tips about making sure you’re buying from a reliable pharmacy. One thing we’ll add: A lot of online pharmacies like to offer drug freebies. This is a HUGE sign of a bad news online drugstore.

  • Gabriel Levitt

    Hi Dr. Thoma -

    There is a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research on online pharmacy safety and savings in which researchers mystery shopped and tested medications purchased online from U.S. Canadian and other international pharmacies. Those medications tested that were purchased from online pharmacies, mostly Canadian-based online pharmacies found on http://www.pharmacychecker.com, were all authentic. The same held true for sites listed by Canadian International Pharmacy Association, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and LegitScript. Here’s the study’s page: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17955.

    Consumers can also benefit by comparing prices at http://www.pharmacychecker.com.

    Please contact me with any questions you might have.

    Best,

    Gabriel Levitt
    Vice President
    PharmacyChecker.com

  • http://www.verticalpharmacy.net/petcare.html pet meds n more

    I always trust Verticalpharmacy, when it come to shop for my generic prescription meds, they are FDA approved and Based In USA. http://www.verticalpharmacy.net/

  • lynchie

    Actually the brand name had a long history of testing, clinical studies, FDA approvals, etc. If there is a problem with the generic from a purity or patient safety issue who do you go after? No doubt the generic is a lot cheaper and that is a problem for sure but Bush and now Obama has given a green light to the pharmaceutical industry to basically charge whatever they want so for the life of the patent they are golden.

    Ever wonder why all the erection pills have ads around supper time? Is it to remind the men to take their little blue pill so they are ready for action at 11 o’clock.

  • benb

    I go with generics whenever I can. There’s a much longer history with a drug that’s generic than a brand name one.

    Oh, yeah. Why is it so much easier to buy a gun in this country than a box of Pseudoephedrine? I have to give them my driver’s license, sign some kinda thing that reads like an affadavit, I can only buy a limited number of grams per month and they keep the data in some database to catch me if I come in a little too early and try to buy more. They try to give me the name brand which is twice the price (even Costco does this)…it’s just a chemical…like salt…oh I shouldn’t have said that with the exotic sea salt craze.

    Oh my god! I just remembered that I bought my Husband a pricey container of “Fleur de Sel del Guerande” from some boutique in West Hollywood (n.b. it’s just SALT) for his birthday. I am so gay.

  • Canadian pharmacy user

    I wouldn’t necessarily agree with you about India. Cipla Pharmaceutical is based in Mumbai and according to their web site has a presence in 180 countries. I get Salbutamol inhalers from an offshore, (not Canadian), outfit and they are sealed Cipla packages. In the US they are about $50 for ONE, (no generic available, at least at my pharmacy), $43 for three in Canada, and I get them for about $11 each. I prefer the ones I get to either one of the others, (they seem to work better and last longer).

    That said, I have seen other medications that purport to come from India that don’t have the same brand name recognition and I too would suggest staying away from those.

  • mark_in_toronto

    Another red flag . . . if your drugs arrive from India, you might want to go elsewhere.

    BTW . . . prescription drugs at store-front pharmacies here in Toronto are pretty darn expensive and so is everything else . . . a bottle of gingko tabs. . . around $30 . . . a bag of Doritoes . . . almost $5. The drug stores were a major sticker-shock moment for me when I first moved here.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Did this ever bring back memories of scouting Canada and France during the worst of the plague years.

  • lynchie

    Here is where I bought my presciptions. I was ordering non generic Plavix and it was significantly cheaper.

    http://www.canadadrugpharmacy.com/

    I had no problems. I now buy at Costco, telling them I don’t have insurance and pay either $15 or $25 for a 90 day supply (all generic).

  • lynchie

    the centralized system is cost effective since every hospital doesn’t need to have a neuro, pediatric, cardiac service and concentrate the best surgeons. In addition paying your monthly hospitalization bill is the only amount you pay. No life time cap, no $2500 deductible (or more) no pre-existing conditions, etc. Canadians as a whole don’t know how broken our system is. No one waits if they are in an emergency situation and all hospitals treat trauma.

  • cole3244

    look to your right, no one there right.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    It doesn’t take much to find stories from Canada about bad experiences with their health care system… long waits for care, the centralized nature of care – like one hospital is the cardiac hospital, and another is the cancer hospital – so you might have to travel for specialized treatment, or what they perceive as lack of adequate attention. But ask a single one of them if they’d give up their health care system in favor of a system of being forced to buy private insurance? I highly doubt even one person would be for that, unless they were paid by the Blue Cross to say so. So really, the polling percentage is a little bit misleading. And the polling is entirely beside the point… look at the data, which is really all that matters. People’s perception of care does not. Anti-health care people in the US like to tout that we have the best system in the world, but always fail to mention that is only for people who can afford it. Once you factor in all income brackets, most countries with socialized systems have better outcomes, better long-term treatment, better preventive care, and a higher life expectancy – for all their people, not just the rich – than in the US.

  • Hue-Man

    “Last summer, I had a Canadian moment. It was at the doctor’s office in Toronto. In the waiting room, to be specific.” ” It turned out I was seated opposite Nadir Mohamed, the president and CEO of Rogers Communications.” http://thewalrus.ca/nadir-and-me/

    Rogers is one of the four cable/phone/TV/radio companies in English Canada, with Bell, Shaw, and Telus. Mr. Mohamed leaves Rogers next year with an $18.5 million retirement package. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/28/rogers-ceo-nadir-mohamed-retirement-pay-package_n_2975551.html

    My multi-millionaire bosses used freedom-hating communist-loving Canadian health care not only because it’s free.

  • cole3244

    thanks, my perception is the further away from socialism healthcare gets and the closer to profit & loss (capitalism) it gets the less popular it is, of course i am a socialist on many issues.

  • Canadian pharmacy user

    I’ve been using Canadian pharmacies for over 10 years with only a single incident. At one point the customs officials at LaGuardia decided to crack down and seized one of my prescriptions. The pharmacy was aware of the problem, and sent a replacement without charge through a different route.

    You do need to take into consideration that it can take 3 weeks or more to get them, so if you go this route think ahead. Most of what I got came through either the United Kingdom or the Bahamas and was manufactured in various overseas locations so I never really had any way to verify they were authentic, but they seemed to work as designed.

    If you have no insurance or your insurance doesn’t cover medications you might also want to check with your local pharmacy to see if they have any discount programs available. My pharmacy has managed to come in with prices lower than I can get in Canada, which is the main reason I rarely use them now. Its also instant, so no planning ahead is needed.

    As an example, one medication I take is showed at $1.30 per pill at CVS online, (in a 3 months supply). The Canadian pharmacy I use it is $1.12 each, and I ended up paying a little less than a dollar each in the US. Of course things vary greatly, (and the above example is for a generic). Before the generic version of this medication became available in the states, (but I was given the generic form when I ordered in Canada), the savings was about 50%.

  • Hue-Man

    To get an idea of what Canadian pharma costs should be, here’s the B.C. Pharmacare website which shows how much per pill the public pharma subsidy will pay. http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/pharmacare/benefitslookup/faces/Search.jsp

    If you put in the trade name, it only returns that drug (.e.g. Lipitor) whereas if you enter the generic name, it’ll give you all the suppliers, strengths, etc. (e.g. Atorvastatin 20 mg CAD 0.4236./pill). My pharmacy adds a $10/prescription dispensing fee that Pharmacare does not pay. 90 days (with fee) = CAD 38.124 (USD 36.95 at today’s exchange rate)

  • Hue-Man

    “Put into an international perspective, however, Canada’s system looks to be relatively well liked. A 2011 Gallup Poll found that
    57 percent of Canadians felt “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their
    access to health care services (in the United States, that number stood
    at just 25 percent).” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/07/01/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-canadian-health-care-in-one-post/

  • cole3244

    the propaganda and utter bs about canadians hating their healthcare are talking points by the right because they know if america gets a taste of it we won’t go back.

    healthcare should be socialized because it is a necessity to live like police, ff, schooling 1-12, and that would not be pure socialism which is another talking point.

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