Word on Health

Word On Counterfeit Medicine

Our grateful thanks to the UK's medicine regulator, the MHRA for their input to this weeks report and for the use of the web copy below which features on the MHRA website  www.mhra.gov.uk  Our congratulations to the agency for the work they do in stamping out counterfeit medicines.

Medicines On The Internet. The established way to obtain medicines is from a local/high street pharmacist. Increasingly, however, purchases are being made over the internet.

If you are thinking about buying what may be a prescription-only medicine, we strongly urge you to consult your doctor, rather than purchase the medicine direct from an internet supplier without a prescription.

It is important to take great care when buying medicines over the internet, particularly if the medicine concerned would normally only be available from your highstreet pharmacy.

If you buy prescription-only medicines over the internet:

  • 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
  • There may be no legal recourse in the event of problem.

In the UK, medicines are categorised in various ways. They can be bought without restriction, which is known as ‘over-the-counter’, with advice and certain restrictions from a pharmacist and, where medicines are particularly potent, on prescription only. These medicines can only be safely used under the care and supervision of suitably qualified healthcare professionals, who can advise on potential side effects, interactions with other medicines and on safe dosages.

Where can I find out if a medicine is a prescription-only medicine? The best way is to check with your retail pharmacist.

Should I buy medicines over the internet? In recent years, there has been an explosion of websites offering medicines for sale via the internet. Many of these websites originate from outside the UK and are therefore not regulated by UK authorities. Buying prescription-only medicines from unauthorised sources significantly increases the risk of getting substandard/fake medicines.

People who acquire medicines without the benefit of a consultation with an appropriate healthcare professional risk being supplied with medicines that are not safe or not suitable for them to use.

Prescription-only medicines should only be taken in consultation with a healthcare professional. This is particularly important when you are medicines at the same time, because interactions between medicines may cause side effects.

In addition any medicines, whether prescription only or not, if purchased over the internet may not meet UK regulatory and quality standards. They may be past their ‘sell-by date’ in which case their effectiveness will be reduced.

Purchases are made over the internet, and as is often the case, sourced from outside the UK, patients have no legal or other recourse if the products are not effective or prove to be harmful.

The Royal  Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) has introduced a logo which will be seen on the front page of participating online pharmacy sites.This will help people identify whether a website offering to sell medicines or provide other pharmacy services is connected to a registered pharmacy. By clicking on the logo, visitors are linked to a page on the RPSGB website where they can make checks to ensure the site is a registered pharmacy.

Internet pharmacy is an area of rapid growth and it is recognised that the increased provision of internet pharmacy services undoubtedly improves patient access and choice of pharmacy services, the nature of the  web is such that some medicines are now readily available from online suppliers who have no professional qualifications or healthcare expertise. The policy of the RPSGB is that the public benefit from the opportunity for advice from a pharmacist when they have a medicine supplied.

The RPSGB’s code of ethics currently require that pharmacy websites display:

  • The name of the owner of the business
  • The address of the pharmacy at which the business is conducted
  • The name of the superintendent pharmacist where applicable
  • Details of how to confirm the registration status of the pharmacy and pharmacist.

Reporting Counterfeit Medicines -If you have any concerns or information that may assist us in tracking down those responsible for counterfeit medicines and devices you can e-mail the Enforcement Group at counterfeit@mhra.gsi.gov.uk  or you can ring their 24-hour dedicated hotline on 020 7084 2701 

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.