New research shows that more and more consumers are purchasing medicines online without a prescription.
The report, conducted by Pfizer and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, showed that half of all pharmacists surveyed have customers who admit to buying medicine in this way.
This coincides with the release of new statistics from the MHRA, which reveal that in the past five years the agency has seized more than £34 million worth of medicine supplied illegally.
Neal Patel of the RPS said: “These are worrying statistics and it’s clear from our members that patients are still unaware of the potential risks associated with purchasing medicines online from unregulated or unverified websites.
“Seventy-three per cent of our members questioned suspect that this activity has become more common place in recent years and 85% believe it is a risk to people’s health and potentially their lives.
“Some of these illegal sites are very professional and look like legitimate online pharmacies, but supply dangerous fakes or unlicensed medicines that have serious health implications. Our advice is clear; always buy medicines in person or online from a genuine UK bricks and mortar based pharmacy.”
The research has been done as part of the Real Danger partnership campaign with the MHRA, The Patients’ Association, The Men’s Health Forum and HEART UK.
The campaign, funded by Pfizer, aims to educate the public about the risks of buying prescription medicines online through unregulated channels without a prescription.
Nimo Ahmed, Head of Enforcement at the MHRA, said: “Counterfeit and unlicensed medicines are potentially lethal – you have no assurances about ingredients, quality or how the medicines have been made.
“Despite these risks, our recent seizures of vast quantities of illegal medicines demonstrate that there is still a huge demand in the UK. This campaign aims to further educate the public so they are aware of the potential dangers and we can work towards halting this dangerous criminal market.”
The research has also uncovered some of the potential reasons why people are purchasing medicines in this way, despite the risks.
Over half of pharmacists (56%) believe that people purchase prescription-only medicine from unregulated online sources because they are too embarrassed to visit a GP or because they feel they can get hold of medication quicker if they bypass the legitimate healthcare system.
As part of the Real Danger campaign, a new educational video has also been released to reinforce the potential dangers of buying prescription medicines online without a prescription.
The video has been created by campaign partners and follows a fictional investigation into a young man who has been admitted to hospital in a coma after buying prescription-only medicines online from an illicit website.