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Patient awareness on counterfeit drugs

MSD has launched a campaign to inform the public about the risks associated with counterfeit drugs and buying medicines over the internet

Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) has launched a campaign aimed at raising patients' awareness of the potential risks of counterfeit medicines and the danger of buying prescription-only drugs from unregulated websites.

There has been a huge increase in the number of drugs sold over the internet in recent years, yet many patients who buy products in this way are unaware of the risks they are taking.

While it is difficult to determine accurately the amount of counterfeit medicine on the market, the Food and Drug Administration estimates that more than 10 per cent of the global medicine supply chain is counterfeit - this figure could be as high as 25 per cent in some countries.

"Counterfeit medicines are a serious issue facing patients, healthcare professionals and the whole pharmaceutical industry," said Dr John Young, medical director, MSD. "We strongly advise patients against buying prescription-only products from unlicensed websites. To do so represents a serious potential health risk."

A survey of 1,000 people, conducted for MSD by TNS, revealed that just 2 per cent think prescription-only medicines are likely to be counterfeit compared to consumer products such as DVDs, handbags and watches.

Almost 66 per cent of those asked said they had received emails selling medicines. However, only 6 per cent believe that buying medicines over the internet without a prescription is a good thing.

Less than one in five respondents said they would be able to spot the difference between a licensed and unregulated website selling prescription-only medicines.

"New websites offering prescription-only medicines seem to pop up every week. For patients the superficial attractions are convenience and a way of bypassing the need for discussion about potentially embarrassing conditions," said Simon Williams of the Patients' Association.

"However, consumers need to understand what they may be letting themselves in for. Many people don't appreciate that buying medicines in this way is illegal in the UK. More importantly, they need to be made aware that this is a highly risky course of action, with the potential to harm their health," he added.

Patient safety announcement will be issued to national and regional press and consumer lifestyle magazines. The press campaign, developed with consultation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is supported by a website (www.propeciainfo.co.uk) and telephone hotline (01992 452 835).

2nd September 2008

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