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A Beginner's Guide to Reputable Canadian Online Pharmacies

November 14, 2019

online pharmacy safety

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Canadian pharmacies, for some, are lifesavers, making needed medication available to Americans who otherwise would have no way to afford it. But at a time when consumers have more information than ever before available at their fingertips, separating safe, reputable Canadian online pharmacies from unsafe pharmacies remains trickier than it should be — particularly for consumers new to filling prescriptions online.

Reputable Canadian pharmacies adhere to safety standards every bit as strict as American pharmacies, typically providing the exact same medication at a fraction of the price you'd spend at an American pharmacy chain.

But there are also unscrupulous websites out there that prey on desperate consumers and sell unsafe or ineffective medications. Fortunately, with proper research, it's possible to find safe online pharmacies with worldwide shipping, which you can rely on over the long term.

Quick Guide to Reputable Online Pharmacies

We'll break down how to evaluate online pharmacies in detail below, but if you're just looking for the basics, here's what to look for in a Canadian online pharmacy.

Warning Signs of an Unsafe Pharmacy

Do not buy from pharmacies that show any of the following warning signs:

  • Advertising "no prescription required," or offering "bonus" pills
  • Providing controlled substances such as amphetamines or opiates online
  • Requiring no medical background check
  • Have websites that look spammy or have intrusive pop-ups

Signs of a Reputable Online Pharmacy

  • Lots of positive customer reviews through a recognized third-party review engine
  • Third-party privacy and security verification
  • Third party pharmacy and website certification (e.g. CIPA approval)
  • Transparent shipping, guarantees, privacy and other policies
  • Quick, helpful customer service and licensed pharmacist available for consultation

What is a Reputable Online Pharmacy?

When you fill a prescription at a pharmacy — any pharmacy — you're trusting them with your health. You can't actually tell what's in a pill just by looking at it, and with many medicines, it can take days or even weeks to know whether the medication is effective. That means if the pill does not contain the right drugs at the right dose, you could theoretically be taking something ineffective or even dangerous for weeks.

That's a lot of trust you're putting in pharmacies, but most of us don't think about it very much just as we don't worry about whether our food supply or our water is safe. The reason we can take a pill without worrying if it's safe is because countries like the United States, Canada and others have well-designed systems and procedures for testing, manufacturing and dispensing drugs.

These laws don't require drugs to be manufactured in America — in fact, it's overwhelmingly likely you've already had pharmaceuticals produced in another country. According to the US Office of Inspector General, 40% of drugs, and 80% of the active ingredients used in drugs, are manufactured overseas.

A reputable Canadian pharmacy and your local drugstore may be stocking your prescription from the same manufacturer — and even from the same factory. The substantive difference is that ordering from Canada and some international pharmacies enables you to benefit from lower prices.

Unfortunately, not every website that claims to fill orders at a Canadian pharmacy or international one is legit. As we discussed in A Skeptic's Guide to Canadian Online Pharmacy Safety, the pharmacy and pharmaceutical industries try to create the impression that all online pharmacies outside of the USA are unsafe to protect their profits, and often target legitimate pharmacy websites. Because these legitimate sites continue to flourish, industry-linked organizations can easily find them and misleadingly list them as "rogue pharmacies."

However, the actual rogue pharmacies pop up websites overnight, then quickly change their name when they're shut down, which means they often slip under the radar. In other words, you're more likely to see a convincing-looking warning directing you away from a safe online pharmacy than from an unsafe one!

To help consumers out, we created this guide to reputable online pharmacies. We consider an online pharmacy website reputable if:

  • It reliably ships safe drugs to consumers as specified in a legal prescription
  • It is overseen by a legitimate credentialing organization with strict safety standards
  • It has a strong safety record
  • It looks out for customer safety by alerting them to conflicts between drugs or other possible safety risks, just as a brick-and-mortar pharmacy would do
  • It provides good customer service, as vouched for by a large number of customers
  • It provides strong security and privacy controls, protecting your medical and financial data from breaches or inappropriate access

In other words, for an online pharmacy to be "reputable," it needs to adhere to the similar strict standards that you'd expect in any pharmacy and then go above and beyond by demonstrating its commitment to customer service which is something bricks and mortar pharmacies rarely do.

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Signs of a Reputable Canadian Online Pharmacy

Absence of Warning Signs

Reputable Canadian pharmacies are there to serve American and international customers in the same way other pharmacies do: by filling legal prescriptions. That means any pharmacy encouraging you to order without a prescription is not legitimate. This includes pharmacies that:

  • Advertise "No prescription required."
  • Offer "bonus" pills or allow you to order a different quantity of medication than your prescription requires. Your brick and mortar pharmacist won't give you bulk discounts on extra medication you weren't prescribed, and your online pharmacy shouldn't either.
  • Offer controlled substances. Certifiers of international pharmacies will not certify pharmacies that sell controlled substances such as opiates or amphetamines, and any pharmacy that ships them internationally is suspect.
  • Does not require medical background information. A pharmacist should check for potentially dangerous medical interactions or other risks in case your doctor missed them. If they just take your request and ship drugs, they're not legitimate
  • Look generally disreputable — e.g. have poorly translated or "spammy" website copy or intrusive pop ups or suspicious redirects. But be careful because some disreputable ones have websites that look legitimate.

Keep in mind that reputable online pharmacies may sell over-the-counter drugs and health products without any special controls. However, if they do the same with prescription drugs, you shouldn't trust them.

A Reputable Pharmacy Has Great Reviews

If you're ordering from any website for the first time, what signs do you look for to make sure they're legitimate?

For most shoppers, customer reviews are one of the first signs to look for. If a company has a lot of reviews, and those reviews are mostly positive, it's a good sign they're providing customers with reliable service, and promptly addressing any customer issues or complaints.

We believe customer reviews are one of the best signs that you can trust any business. That's why we prominently feature review links through both Shopper Approved and Trustpilot, making it easy for new customers to check out our reviews and leave their own. In fact, with over 375,000 reviews, NorthWestPharmacy.com is the world's most reviewed Canadian online pharmacy and international drugstore, with a nearly perfect TrustScore of 4.7/5.

Pharmacy Safety Means Taking Privacy and Security Seriously

While customers can vouch for customer service and quality of products, they can't see what's happening behind the scenes. A company could be doing a perfectly good job providing products and support, while failing to protect your financial data and privacy — and you'll have no way of knowing unless your identity is stolen.

With online pharmacies, this is extra important. In addition to basic info you regularly share with vendors, such as your name, address and financial data, they also know about your health, medical history and what prescriptions you're taking. That means it's even more important for online pharmacies to be scrupulous about protecting your privacy.

That's why a reputable Canadian online pharmacy website should have third-party certifications that vouch for their privacy and safety protections. Safe website certifications like Trust Guard or the Norton Shopping Guarantee show that a website takes security seriously, and takes steps to protect your personal and financial data. The Norton Shopping Guarantee also provides a $10,000 protection against identity theft. Norton also provides a $1,000 purchase guarantee, to reimburse you should a merchant fail to fulfill their obligations to you, and a $100 lowest price guarantee.

Safe Online Pharmacies Have Third-Party Certification

Just as with business privacy and security practices, safe online pharmacies should have certification from a third-party site that verifies their pharmacy practices specifically. There is no single worldwide agency in charge of pharmacies, however, there are a number of national and regional organizations that provide oversight for pharmacies and websites in particular areas.

If you're ordering from the U.S., make sure the website is approved by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA). CIPA-approved online pharmacies have maintained a perfect safety record since the organization was founded more than 15 years ago. Being approved by the International Pharmacy Association of British Columbia (IPABC) is another good sign for online pharmacies which dispense through a bricks and mortar pharmacy in BC specifically. NorthWestPharmacy.com is approved by both CIPA and IPABC.

One thing that's important to note is that fraudulent online pharmacies may fake certification by sticking the symbol of a certifier on their site. Check out the list of CIPA approved pharmacies to make sure any Canadian online pharmacy website you're considering is actually certified.

Transparency and Customer Service

Finally, a reputable online pharmacy site should be open about their processes and procedures. This starts with a FAQ covering basic information, such as what information is required to complete an order, shipping cost and time, where drugs are sourced and shipped from, and any guarantees they offer.

We recommend choosing a company with a satisfaction guarantee and a lowest price guarantee, since this will ensure you'll save as much money as possible, and that the company will be willing to refund your money, should anything go wrong with your order.

Companies should also be open about the obstacles that sometimes come with shipping drugs from an online pharmacy. Ordering prescriptions from an international pharmacy can typically take up to 18 business days, and can sometimes face delays for various reasons, such as inclement weather or customs delays. Those delays are outside of the shipper's control. Pharmacies should be honest about this and be willing to resend your prescription free of charge in the rare event that it does not arrive.

Finally, a reputable online pharmacy should be willing to answer any questions you have. They should make it easy to contact customer service, and provide a quick, informative response to any questions you have.

Please don't hesitate to call us on our toll-free phone number if you have any questions at all, or you need assistance in completing an order with us. At NorthWestPharmacy.com, we're here to help you get the medication you need at affordable prices.

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