Use caution when buying Canadian drugs

Posted: Thursday, September 05, 2002

U.S. citizens are reaching out to the Better Business Bureaus across the country seeking information about ordering drug prescriptions from Canada by mail, telephone and through the Internet.

During the past several months the Canadian BBB Council office has also received a number of calls from U.S. citizens who are seeking reliability reports on Canadian pharmacies and information about Canadian Web sites offering prescription drugs." To assist with consumer inquiries the Canadian BBB Council office contacted Canadian Federal and Provincial government staff to obtain additional information", said Al Tobin, CEO of the BBB of Alaska.

"The head of the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus, Bob Whitelaw, informs me Health Canada is the regulatory authority that verifies the quality, safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs approved for use in Canada," said Tobin. "Prescribing and dispensing prescription drugs, the administration of health care, and the governance of practitioners, including pharmacists, are provincial responsibilities."

In Canada, a drug can only be sold pursuant to a prescription written by a practitioner licensed to practice in Canada. Each province in Canada has its own laws governing the prescription and sale of prescription drugs, but overall, it is generally accepted that physicians and pharmacists should establish a relationship with the patient before prescribing or selling drugs.

Recently some provincial bodies that regulate pharmacists and physicians have been taking legal actions against their constituents that do not follow the established acts, regulations and codes of conduct.

According to Tobin, Health Canada is concerned about the inspection and quality control of prescription drugs when sold online. The safety and effectiveness of a drug may be in question when ordered online, particularly if the product does not include a Drug Identification Number. This eight-digit number, preceded with the letters "DIN," signifies that a drug product has been reviewed by Health Canada prior to sale for safety and efficacy, and found to have an acceptable risk benefit profile for the conditions under which it was approved.

Ordering drugs online without professional medical advice and monitoring can pose a number of risks:

Self-diagnosis of some diseases may be difficult, impossible and dangerous. Inability to have a professional trace the course of treatment and recovery can lead to inappropriate use of drugs, the ineffective treatment of the disease state, and the lack of monitoring of harmful side effects. Drug resistance problems, for example, when antibiotics are used inappropriately; Negative interaction of drugs with other medicines and with food products, which could increase their toxicity or decrease their effectiveness.

Drug products purchased outside the normal distribution chain of pharmacies and of inspected and licensed manufacturers, importers, distributors, testing laboratories and wholesalers may not meet quality standards. Again, safety and effectiveness may be compromised.

Tobin, said Health Canada noted some drugs approved for use in Canada may not be the same as those approved for use in the United States despite being manufactured by the same company. Different formulations, different dosages, and different approved indications may make a difference to the individual patient.

It is important the consumer consult his or her health care professional before taking any kind of prescription drug. Consumers who are considering purchasing prescription drugs from Canada can link to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site about buying products online at This site provides information that consumers should consider before making any purchases over the Internet. The site also explains what one can legally bring across the border and what may be refused entrance to the United States.

This column was provided by the Better Business Bureau of Alaska Inc. To contact the Better Business Bureau of Alaska, please call 907-562-0704 or visit the Web site at

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