An increasing number of our patients are buying medication over the internet. There are often numerous reasons why people do this – it may be embarrassment to go to their own doctor about their condition or more commonly that it is a cheaper option than paying the prescription charge.
However, it can be very dangerous buying medication over the internet. Last week a man who sold counterfeit medicines, including Viagra, was told to hand over more than £14m by Southwark Crown Court. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it was the largest confiscation order against a dealer in fake medicines. He ran an illegal online pharmacy which sold counterfeit and unlicensed drugs for erectile dysfunction.
The MHRA have produced guidance for patients regarding buying medication over the internet. It is very important that patients are aware that if they buy prescription only medication over the internet then they may not have been prescribed by a healthcare professional, there may not be checks and controls on the quality and effectiveness of medicines supplied and also there may be no legal recourse in the event of a problem.
In addition, buying their only medication can put their own health at risk as it often means that they are self-diagnosing and may not even need the medication they are buying for themselves.
Many of the websites offering medication to patients are from outside the UK and are therefore not regulated. The risk of the medication bought being counterfeit is therefore very high.
As an aside, there is a potential for credit card cloning and some people have contracted viruses from spam emails sent by the website from which medication was purchased.
The MHRA Enforcement Team continually monitors websites, especially those known to be selling prescription only medicines. However, we should all have very low thresholds for asking patients if they are taking any medication they might have bought over the internet.