The MHRA closed down more than 1,600 websites last year as part of its ongoing campaign against the illegal advertisement and sale of medicines, the watchdog has announced.
It also collaborated with social media and auction sites such as YouTube, Amazon and eBay to take down almost 19,000 online videos, it said on Thursday (January 8).
Enforcement officers seized more than £3 million-worth of medicines in 2014, including quantities of erectile dysfunction drugs, slimming products, cognitive enhancers, and “powerful and often misused” sleeping pills and antidepressants, the MHRA said.
Many of the medicines advertised online were counterfeits or unlicensed, while most packages seized had originated in India or China, it said.
The number of websites closed had fallen by “a couple of hundred” compared with 2013, which the MHRA attributed to criminals increasingly turning to smartphones, tablets and YouTube videos to advertise and sell these drugs instead, it told C+D.
The MHRA continued to work with internet domain registries, credit card companies and Interpol to shut down websites and close their accounts, it said.
MHRA head of enforcement Alastair Jeffrey said these actions demonstrated the organisation’s “total commitment to tackling this dangerous and illegal trade”. He described buying medicines online as a “risk”, as patients had “no idea" what they were getting.
“Criminals involved in the supply of medicines have no interest in your health, it is simply your money they want. We recommend prescription and pharmacy medicines are obtained from a legitimate high street or online pharmacy,” he added.
In October, the MHRA seized more than 20,000 units of 13 different types of cognitive-enhancing medicines, in the UK's biggest ever single seizure of this type of drug.