Beware of online purchases!

March 8, 2013 by Émilie Bédard

Attention aux achats effectués sur Internet

The online sale of healthcare products is increasingly popular around the world. It is estimated that nearly 13 million consumers may have been exposed to counterfeit medication. International revenues for this market have doubled in recent years, nearing the US$75 million mark in 2010.

It is a major concern for healthcare professionals. There is no guarantee of the quality and proper methods used to manufacture these products, unlike those approved by Health Canada. These products may or may not contain the proper medication, and if they do use the proper one, the dosage may be too high or too low. For example, an analysis of 2,383 samples of Viagra® sold online showed that only 14% of these products were authentic and that approximately 25% contained no active ingredients. One of these samples even contained an antibiotic. Certain toxic products were also identified during the analysis of these counterfeit products. Furthermore, in 2006, one Canadian died after taking a medication that contained toxic concentrations of heavy metals, which was bought from an online pharmacy.

Besides the risk related to the product itself, buying medication with no prescription or supervision by a healthcare professional also has its dangers: overconsumption, risk of drug interactions, under-diagnosis of pathologies that require care, and so on. Buyers also often disregard how the medication should be taken, the possible side effects and the contraindications.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that thousands of people across the world get sick or die every year because of counterfeit medications. Surprisingly, the majority of online buyers are aware of how dangerous it is. Then what brings people to buy medication, hearing aids or eyeglasses online? According to studies, this choice is motivated by the low price and by practicality.

In short, buying healthcare products online is risky business. While their price and easy accessibility is attractive, you must remember that one cannot become a doctor, pharmacist, audioprosthetist or optometrist overnight. These products are under the control of professionals for the sake of everyone’s health.

If you have any questions on online pharmacies, don’t hesitate to talk to your pharmacist about it.

– DUCHAINE J. “Cyberpharmacies et médicaments contrefaits: Démêler le vrai du faux”, Québec Pharmacie, April-May 2010, 57(2): 1-3 [Online], page consulted on December 14, 2012,
– JACKSON G., S. PATEL, and S. KHAN. “Assessing the problem of counterfeit medications in
the United Kingdom”, Int J Clin Pract, March 2012, 66(3): 241-250.