The British Medical Association has warned against buying prescription drugs from the Internet, and has called for certain prescribing restrictions on erectile dysfunction drugs, which are often bought from online sources, to be lifted.

According to the BMA, ED drugs such as Pfizer’s Viagra (sildenafil) are among those most frequently purchased from Internet sites, and many patients may be forced into seeking alternative sources because treatment on the National Health Service is only available if the problem is found be due to certain illnesses such as diabetes.

The BMA had always been critical of the “unfair system” of permitting NHS treatment for some men with the problem and not for others, its chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said, but the group also noted that men may be “wary” of visiting the doctor about the issue, further compounding the problem.

There can be serious and potentially life-threatening underlying causes of ED, and the Association warned that, not only will these conditions not be picked up and treated if patients self-diagnose and purchase drugs over the Internet, but that the treatments themselves may be at best inactive and at worst contain harmful substances.

Raising awareness
“One of the messages we are trying to get over to the public is of the dangers of doing self-prescribing over the Internet. We want patients to be aware and to be protected and to seek appropriate advice to get proper diagnosis, and treatment,” Meldrum said.

And further stressing the need to raise awareness over the potential dangers of online drug purchasing, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics at the BMA, added: “On average, half of the drugs sold worldwide over the internet are counterfeit. Some of these counterfeit drugs have killed.”

The BMA says it plans to work closely with the World Health Organisation as well as approach the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for a potential partnership to help address the growing problem of counterfeit medicines and Internet prescribing in the UK. Furthermore, it has called on the government to “lead international action to deal with the Internet drugs issues”.

Last week the MHRA published its first ever anti-counterfeit strategy alongside the launch of a new 24-hour hotline for reporting suspected incidences of fake medicines and devices. The move comes as criminal activity in the global counterfeiting arena continues to rise at a frightening pace, with the Agency recently having to deal with an unprecedented number of fake medicines appearing in the NHS supply chain.