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Why “Canadian” Internet Pharmacies Aren’t What They Seem

One of the most important misperceptions about Internet pharmacies is that if a “Canadian Internet pharmacy” has been verified as possessing a Canadian pharmacy license, that it must be acting legally and safely, and that the drugs must be coming from Canada. After all, drugs “from Canada” are just as safe as drugs here in the United States, correct?

The truth is disturbing. First, to back up, let’s be clear that real Canadian pharmacies are generally just as safe as US pharmacies. If you walked into a Canadian pharmacy, you’d have the same protections and drug safety system (not identical, but close enough) that US residents enjoy. Part of those protections, both in Canada and the US, include a prohibition against importing prescription drugs from outside of those respective countries.

The assumption is, of course, that if you order from an Internet pharmacy that has been verified as “having” a Canadian license, that they are actually using the license for its intended purpose and simply sending you drugs from their own pharmacy shelves. But remember, Canadian laws only apply in Canada, so if you are a customer located outside of Canada, that isn’t really what’s going on. Rather, as we explained in our report on approved Yahoo Internet pharmacy advertisers, they are simply re-routing at least some drug orders to locations like India or Turkey, and the drugs never come from or go through Canada at any point, but are sent directly to US residents. This is unsafe and illegal.

To put this in context, consider our expose of That Internet pharmacy became an approved Yahoo! advertiser by virtue of showing a Canadian pharmacy license (the same one used by to PharmacyChecker, following which it was approved as meeting PharmacyChecker’s full set of verification criteria. But remember, the purpose of a Canadian pharmacy license is to dispense drugs from a Canadian pharmacy. Despite claiming to be Canadian, that Internet pharmacy says it cannot do business in Canada because it would be illegal to import prescription drugs into Canada. (Repeat: This “Canadian” Internet pharmacy says it can do business anywhere but Canada. Sound fishy?) And the website told us, when we asked, that the drugs would be routed into the US from India via Barbados.

Does this sound like a bona fide Canadian pharmacy? Of course not. This would be blatantly illegal in Canada, in fact. is hiding behind a Canadian pharmacy license in order to become a search engine advertiser and illegally ship drugs to US residents from India, Turkey, Barbados, or similar locations.

Why would want to hide behind a Canadian pharmacy license? Two big reasons. First, Internet users that are squeamish about ordering from India or Turkey may assume, incorrectly, that they are using a licensed Canadian pharmacy to order drugs. Second, being able to point to a Canadian pharmacy license (even one that it doesn’t utilize) gives this website the ability to advertise on Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft, which require that the Internet pharmacy “be based in the US or Canada.”

Think about it. Search engine advertising policy would prohibit a pharmacy or drug supplier in India, Africa or Turkey from advertising and selling drugs into the US. So if you are a drug supplier located in one of those countries and want to advertise with Google or Yahoo! to illegally sell drugs to US residents, what should you do? Simple: become an affiliate of a licensed Canadian Internet pharmacy. You don’t actually have to sell drugs from Canada, let alone a real Canadian pharmacy. All you have to do is get permission to write down the Canadian pharmacy license number in your Yahoo! application, advertise as a “Canadian pharmacy” and then ship the drugs from somewhere else like India, Turkey, or wherever you’d like to.

Make no mistake: this isn’t about Canadian pharmacies or drugs from Canada. This is about drugs from India and Turkey, and an advertising system that is allowing them to deceptively market themselves as “Canadian.” This isn’t legal or safe. We deserve better from the search engines, which should require that their Internet pharmacy advertisers adhere to US law, rather than allow advertisements placed by websites that facilitate illegal prescription drug activity online.