Three people have been handed custodial sentences in England for their involvement in the illegal supply of potentially dangerous prescription-only medicines.

Jagdiep Dhonsi, Amrin Mirza and Shirina Ali were sentenced by Southwark Crown court to 38, 18 and nine months in prison, respectively, having been convicted of conspiracy to supply unauthorised medicines including diazepam, zolpidem and zopiclone, which are all controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, together with other powerful prescription-only medicines.

The case was the result of a complex investigation by the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), during which more than 300,000 illicit tablets were seized with a value in excess of £315,000. However, it is believed these represent only a fraction of the overall illegal operation.

The supply of medicines from sources outside the regulated supply chain represents a significant public health risk and the criminal group responsible showed a complete disregard for the public’s safety and well-being, the regulator said.

The medicines the group were supplying can have serious side effects; for example, finasteride, which is used to treat hair loss, can lead to foetal abnormalities and sibutramine, which is used as an appetite suppressant was banned in 2010 because of the health risks associated with its use which include cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.

Alastair Jeffrey, MHRA head of enforcement said of the convictions:

“Medicines purchased outside the regulated supply chain cannot be guaranteed to meet standards of quality, safety and effectiveness and can present a real risk to public health. Some may contain dangerous ingredients which can have devastating consequences for patients who use them.

“We work to identify those involved in illegal activities with medicines and will use our powers to investigate fully, confiscate assets and, where necessary, prosecute those putting profit before public health.”