A shocking new advert will be appearing on cinema screens nationwide from this Friday (January 16), warning consumers of the dangers of buying prescription medicines without a prescription from unlicensed sources such as illegal websites.

The ad, which will also appear on-line, shows a man coughing up a dead rat after taking a pill purchased from an illicit website, graphically illustrating the fact that counterfeit medicines can contain potentially life-threatening ingredients.

The advert has been created by Pfizer, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and patient groups including The Patents Association, Men’s Health Forum and H.E.A.R.T UK. It was developed in direct response to new research which has revealed that more than 330,000 men purchase prescription only medicines from unregulated sources, such as Internet sites, every year in the UK.

This is the first collaboration of its kind between the pharmaceutical industry, health regulators and patient representatives to combat the threat posed by fake medicine, and Dr David Gillen, medical director at Pfizer, said the company was thrilled to be part of the initiative to tackle the industry-wide problem of counterfeit medicines head on.

“The time has definitely come to issue a clear, unified message to people about the dangers of purchasing medicines from illicit and unregulated sources,” said Dr Gillen. “This advertising campaign forms part of a wider public education campaign launched by Pfizer last year to ensure the public is aware of the health risks they are taking by buying and consuming counterfeit medicines, potentially without even a proper diagnosis from a qualified healthcare professional,” he added.

Mick Deats, the MHRA's group manager of enforcement, emphasized that the agency “will not hesitate to take action against those who undermine public health. There is considerable risk to the public from obtaining medicines through unregulated websites. If you feel that your medicine may be counterfeit, contact the MHRA’s dedicated 24 hour anti-counterfeiting hotline on 020 7084 2701, or by email to counterfeit@mhra.gsi.gov.uk,” he said.

The advert will run across 2,651 screens (around 600 cinemas) nationally from January 16 until March 5. Because of its graphic nature, it has been classified as a 15. It can be viewed, and further information obtained about the dangers associated with buying medicines from unregulated sources, by visiting www.realdanger.co.uk.