The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) told C+D yesterday (May 1) it is “working closely” with the government’s medicines watchdog on its investigation into “an extensive network of criminality”, with businesses diverting POMs to be sold illegally online – and that 23 pharmacists will face fitness-to-practise investigations as a result.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced its latest crackdown – which it said involves a “small number of registered pharmacies” – in January. It leads on from its 2016 investigation into the “significant diversion of benzodiazepines and other hypnotics/anxiolytics” onto the black market.
The GPhC is waiting for the outcome of the MHRA investigation to set the dates for the hearings, it said.
So far, six pharmacists have been suspended under “interim orders” while the investigation is ongoing, the regulator explained. The suspended pharmacists are included in the list of 23 who are facing fitness-to-practise investigations, the GPhC confirmed this morning.
The MHRA confirmed to C+D that “approximately 50 pharmacies may have been involved” in the investigation. Eight pharmacists have been arrested, and one pharmacist charged.
“We have identified three websites where there has been approximately £55 million transacted for medicinal products,” it added.
The Daily Mail referenced the MHRA’s ongoing investigation in an article published on Monday (April 30), which included video footage of a pharmacist selling an undercover reporter 60 Xanax pills for £150, and 100 tramadol tablets for £250.
The MHRA stressed to C+D that “Xanax is not one of the medicines subject to this diversion investigation”. It said it had not been aware of the pharmacy in question – Al Razi Pharmacy on Edgware Road in London – prior to the Daily Mail’s coverage.
“We cannot comment [further] as it is a police matter and the Daily Mail was advised to inform the police and the GPhC,” the MHRA added.
The regulator said it has referred Al Razi Pharmacy to its fitness-to-practise committee following the Daily Mail story.
Impact of investigations
Last month, the MHRA reported that diversion of “top strength” diazepam onto the black market is down 64% as a result of its ongoing investigations.
MHRA head of enforcement Alastair Jeffrey said yesterday: “We have opened over 30 individual investigations, and we will continue to concentrate our efforts on identifying the criminals involved and ensure they are prosecuted through the courts.”
This article was updated on May 3 following further clarification from the GPhC