Sprechen Sie Pharmacy??

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Navigating the terms associated with pharmacies, prescriptions and drug plans can sometimes sound like a foreign language.  Here’s a glossary of what some of those terms mean:

Dispensing fee

When you pay for a prescription at a pharmacy, you are paying for two components:  the ingredient cost, or the cost of the actual drug being dispensed, and the dispensing fee, the professional fee your pharmacist charges for dispensing the drug and giving you advice.  Some benefits plans have dispensing fee caps or maximums, or deductibles based around the dispensing fee.  You can ask your pharmacist what dispensing fee they would charge before getting your prescription filled.

DIN number

An eight digit drug identification number assigned to any drug marketed in Canada after it has been authorized for sale by Health Canada.  A DIN uniquely identifies a drug according to their manufacturer, active ingredient, strength of active ingredient(s), pharmaceutical form and route of administration.


A listing of drugs, both brand name and generic, that are eligible for coverage under a private benefits plan or government benefits plan.


Generic drugs are copies of brand name drugs that have exactly the same dosage, intended use, effect, safety and strength as the original brand name drug.  Generic drugs are introduced to market as alternatives to the brand name drug when a brand name drug comes off of patent protection.  Generic drugs are often substantially cheaper than their brand name counterparts, primarily because their drug manufacturer does not have to build the same recuperation of money spent on research, development and marketing into its pricing.


Biologic drugs are medicinal products that are created from living organisms, rather than being chemically derived.  Vaccines, insulin, and many drugs administered to patients intravenously are all examples of biologics.

Orphan drugs

These are drugs that are used to treat serious diseases that are either rare.  Because the potential market for potential patients requiring orphan drugs is small, the cost of these drugs is very high.  Some countries have public policies around orphan drugs which both incent pharmaceutical companies to continue to develop and manufacture them, and ensure that patients suffering from these rare diseases have timely and affordable access to these drugs.


These are, in essence, the equivalent of a generic drug for a Biologic.  Because the manufacturing process for a Biologic drug is very complex, other subsequent manufacturers cannot guarantee that their version is exactly identical to the original manufacturer’s version, like they can drug made through a chemical process.  Biosimilars have demonstrated their comparability and interchangeability with to the original Biologic, even though they aren’t exactly identical.

Compounding pharmacy

A specialty pharmacy that that customizes the dispensing of medication to meet a patient’s special needs.  This can include changing a medication from a pill form to a liquid or transdermal gel, removing a non-essential ingredient like dye or gluten if a patient has an allergy, or to obtain an exact dose when a patient requires a non-standard or limited dose of their drug.