Be informed: know the potential risks of buying health products online
- Starting date:
- June 8, 2021
- Type of communication:
- Drugs, Medical Device, Natural health products
- Source of recall:
- Health Canada
- Identification number:
- Product: Health products not authorized for sale in Canada.
- Issue: The dangers of buying unauthorized health products sold online.
- What to do: If you choose to buy health products online, make sure to buy them from a reputable website and that they are authorized for sale by Health Canada.
Many websites that sell health products are lawful businesses, but some sell health products that pose serious health risks. As part of Operation Pangea XIV - an international effort to disrupt the online sale of counterfeit and other illegal health products around the world-Health Canada is reminding Canadians of the dangers of buying unauthorized health products online.
Some drugs and natural health products sold online may appear to be legitimate and safe, but may not be authorized for sale in Canada. The products may be expired, mislabeled, subject to recalls, counterfeit versions of authorized products, or they may have no active ingredients, the wrong ingredients, or dangerous additives such as prescription drugs not listed on the label. Consumers should also be cautious of buying unlicensed medical devices over the Internet, as some may be low quality, may not work, or may be unsafe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the risk of illegal sales of substandard and counterfeit health products worldwide. Due to the unprecedented demand and urgent need for health products and personal protective equipment (PPE)(such as respirators, gloves and face shields) to help limit the spread of COVID-19, more consumers may be turning to online retailers for access to these products, making them vulnerable to purchasing low quality, ineffective and even dangerous products.
As part of this international effort, Health Canada works with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to stop counterfeit and other illegal health products from reaching the Canadian market, and to help raise consumer awareness.
During Operation Pangea XIV's week of action, which took place May 18 to 25, 2021, Health Canada inspected 2,076 packages, refused 867 packages from entering the country, and seized 228 packages at the border containing suspected counterfeit or unauthorized health products. The majority of products seized (238 of 244, or 97.5%) were sexual enhancement products (primarily erectile dysfunction medications). Other products included antibiotics, painkillers, and bodybuilding supplements. Although Health Canada did not seize products related to COVID-19 during this week of action, the Department remains alert to the heightened risk, takes action when illegal products related to COVID-19 are identified, and continues to remind Canadians to be vigilant.
Health Canada works throughout the year to detect and stop unauthorized health products from entering the country, including working in partnership with CBSA to help prevent further importation of these products.
What you should do
If you decide to buy health products over the Internet, it is important to know the risks and to stay protected:
- Look for health products that have been authorized by Health Canada. Authorized health products have an eight-digit Drug Identification Number (DIN), Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM). Consumers can also check whether products have been authorized for sale by searching Health Canada's Drug Product Database, Licensed Natural Health Products Database or Medical Devices Active Licence Listing (MDALL).
- Avoid buying health products from questionable or untrustworthy websites. If you have questions about whether an online pharmacy is legitimate, contact the pharmacy regulatory authority in your province or territory. Find out more about choosing a safe online pharmacy.
- Check Health Canada's Recalls and Safety Alerts database for advisories on illegal health products, including products related to COVID-19, that have been found on the Canadian market.
- Report adverse events, or complaints involving medical devices, drugs and other health products, including illegal health products, to Health Canada.
- INTERPOL news release
- Choosing a safe online pharmacy
- Risks of shopping online
- Counterfeit prescription drugs
- Buying drugs over the Internet
- Adulteration of natural health products
- Buying medical devices from the Internet
- Risks of buying natural health products online
- The safe use of health products for weight loss
Related COVID-19 health product advisories
- Counterfeit 3M N95 respirators
- Recall of certain hand sanitizers that may pose health risks
- Ultraviolet (UV) lights and wands falsely claiming to disinfect against COVID-19
- Unauthorized test kits claiming to diagnose or detect COVID-19 put your health at risk
- Fraudulent and unauthorized N95 respirators may not protect consumers against COVID-19
- Health Canada warns Canadians not to buy COVID-19 vaccines sold online or from unauthorized sources
- Health products that make false or misleading claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 may put your health at risk