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UK pharmacies selling benzodiazepines to ‘criminal market’

Wholesalers and a “small number of pharmacies” are involved in a network selling benzodiazepines to the “criminal market”, the UK’s drugs watchdog has revealed.

As part of its investigation into the “significant diversion of benzodiazepines and other hypnotics/anxiolytics” onto the black market, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) uncovered an “extensive network of criminality”, it announced this afternoon (December 16). 

This network included “wholesale dealers and a small number of registered pharmacies in the UK”, it added. 

Two pharmacists arrested 

Two pharmacists in Yorkshire have already been arrested in relation to the purchase of more than 200,000 packs of benzodiazepines “and other powerful drugs”, the MHRA said.

“The proportion of these medicines dispensed by the pharmacists is very small,” the MHRA stressed. “They have been arrested in relation to a number of offences, including possession with intent to supply a controlled drug.” 

The watchdog launched its investigation on the back of referrals from enforcement authorities in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, it said.

“Uncommonly, the medicines were legitimate UK products which had been diverted from the regulated supply chain. Following the referrals, investigations led by the MHRA identified the scale and extent of the diversion,” it added. 

However, there is “no indication” that these practices have led to “medicines shortages or issues with the legitimate supply of medicines to the public”.

“Consequently, medicines supplied through registered pharmacies are unaffected,” it said. 

MHRA head of enforcement Alastair Jeffrey said: “As a matter of priority, we are working with our regulatory and law enforcement colleagues to identify and prosecute those involved in this activity, and to implement preventative measures to make sure this illegal industry is shut down.” 

The MHRA told C+D that as the case is ongoing, it is "not able to comment on the specifics".

Are you aware of patients buying benzodiazepines illegally?

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