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Unlicensed online pharmacies put patients at risk

A report has revealed that the growth in unlicensed online pharmacies is putting UK patients at risk of purchasing unsafe drugs, as most do not require a prescription written by a GP.

A report has revealed that the growth in unlicensed online pharmacies is putting UK patients at risk of purchasing unsafe drugs, as most do not require a prescription written by a GP.

MarkMonitor, a US-based internet security company, examined 3,160 online pharmacies and found that 16 per cent were hosted on servers in the UK, making the country the second-most popular place to run an internet pharmacy after the US. However, few are certified by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the UK pharmacy regulator.

Charlie Abrahams, MarkMonitor's CEO, said: "The vast majority of online sites are operating without the proper credentials from the pharmacy regulatory bodies. Our findings also indicate that some of the drugs being sold on these sites may be fake, expired, diluted or alternatives, and that visitors to these sites are likely to compromise their credit-card identities, as well as their health."

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB), with which all retail pharmacies must register, admitted that some medicines were readily available from online suppliers who have no professional qualifications or healthcare expertise.

An RPSGB spokesperson said that online pharmacies are the main source of fake and illegal medicines in the UK, and as such were very dangerous to patients acquiring them.

Under a proposed 2008 scheme, no pharmacy will be allowed to operate solely on the internet, while those that sell drugs online will be required to display an RPSGB logo. The Medicines Act already permits a brief communication with a doctor online to be regarded as a consultation for the purposes of prescription.

The most popular treatments bought online were the sexual dysfunction drug Viagra (sildenafil) and the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor (atorvastatin). Both drugs sell for a fifth of the price in registered pharmacies, suggesting that they may be unsafe or counterfeit in nature.

According to the US Center for Medicines in the Public Interest, counterfeit drug sales will reach USD 75bn globally in 2010, a 90 per cent increase on 2005 figures.

2nd September 2008

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