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MHRA investigating 25 pharmacies as part of POM diversion crackdown

MHRA: Diversion of diazepam 10mg is down 73% thanks to our investigation
MHRA: Diversion of diazepam 10mg is down 73% thanks to our investigation

Twenty five pharmacies are currently under investigation for diverting prescription-only medicines (POMs) to the criminal market, C+D can exclusively reveal.

The investigation into “an extensive network of criminality” diverting POMs to be sold illegally online was first announced by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last year, and included “wholesale dealers and a small number of registered pharmacies” across the UK, the watchdog said at the time.

The MHRA told C+D yesterday (February 12) that 25 pharmacies are now “under various stages of investigation” for their role in illegal POM diversion.

In total, 10 pharmacists have been arrested and a further four have been interviewed under caution – but not arrested – as part of the crackdown, the MHRA said.

“In several instances, there is more than one pharmacy premises owned or controlled by one pharmacist,” the MHRA told C+D. “This goes some way to explain why there are 14 pharmacists under investigation and 25 pharmacies involved.”

Pharmacists facing GPhC investigation

According to the MHRA, eight pharmacists have been suspended from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) register and 13 wholesale dealer licences have been discontinued or terminated.

In May 2018, the GPhC told C+D that 23 pharmacists were facing fitness-to-practise investigations for their role in diverting POMs onto the criminal market.

C+D has asked the regulator whether the eight suspended pharmacists the MHRA referred to yesterday are included in these 23 investigations, or are new cases.

Diazepam and zopiclone diversion

The watchdog’s latest crackdown leads on from its 2016 investigation into the “significant diversion” of benzodiazepines and other hypnotics and anxiolytics onto the black market.

At the time, the MHRA said two pharmacists in Yorkshire had been arrested in relation to the purchase of more than 200,000 packs of benzodiazepines “and other powerful drugs”.

The POMs involved in its current investigation are benzodiazepines – “most commonly diazepam” – and Z drugs, “most commonly zopiclone and zolpidem”, the watchdog told C+D.

In a statement yesterday, the MHRA announced that illegal trading in diazepam 10mg is down 73%, which shows its “efforts to stop diversion of medicines to the black market are working”.

An analysis of bulk orders of “diverted medicines” between January and May 2017, compared with the same period in 2016, revealed that trading of nitrazepam fell by 30%, and “top strength” temazepam and zolpidem both fell by 18%, the MHRA added.

Head of enforcement Alastair Jeffrey said: “We will continue to track down and prosecute those recklessly endangering public safety by illegally selling prescription medicines.”

Are you aware of patients buying POMs from illegitimate websites?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

But more importantly were they geniune medicines verified by FMD?

C A, Community pharmacist

Perhaps we should be looking at removing the Pharmcies NHS contracts? Eh GPhC?

Lucky Ex-Boots Slave, Primary care pharmacist

*This user has asked for their comment to be deleted, and apologised for its content*

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

'Look at all the addicts on the streets wandering around and causing all sorts of problems! They should all be locked up and forced to quit but not to be given choices!'

This has been tried in the States and it has been a complete disaster for all involved, not to mention incredibly expensive.

'How about also prosecuting those actually possess and use the drugs?'

No, a pharmacist selling medication illegally is worse than any other person using or selling drugs. We are the trusted person in society with regards to the possession of prescription medication. Anybody found guilty of illegal diversion has damaged the reputation of the profession in the most serious way possible.

James Watson, Superintendent Pharmacist

Extremely concerning that you are a pharmacist, given your attitude to addicts

Paul Guest, Manager

Not for much longer according to his/her other posts.

Graham Turner, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Drugs laws do NOT work. They drive the production and profit making underground, increasing risk for the consumer and making massive profits for criminal gangs. Just because you are a pharmacist does not mean that you are not allowed a progressive view on this matter.

As long as humans exist there will always be substance abuse. Humans have been using substances to alter their consciousness and perception for thousands of years. Making it a criminal matter clearly is a failure with hundreds of governments wasting insane amounts of law enforcement resources and revenue on the matter. For what? To destroy the lives of people who have what will in the future be recognised as a medical condition? How many people have died either directly or indirectly as a result of the the illegal drug trade? All of these deaths could have been avoided.

If anything, pharmacists are on the front line and can clearly see the failure of the current system, so only agreeing with laws that don't work means that you are either unwilling to think for yourself, or are scared of being reprimanded for having such a forward thinking view.

It probably won't be in my lifetime because politicians are terrified of tackling the matter, as they might not be able to keep their hand in the cookie jar, but one day, progressive and sensible laws on the misuse of drugs will be developed, and we will look back at the laws we have now and laugh at how much they were such a complete and utter failure and helped no one.

My personal view is that addiction is genetically ingrained and should be treated as an illness, and not a criminal matter. People who insist on taking drugs are going to get hold of them any way, so why not give them something safe and tax it for the benefit of the country? Are we not trying to improve people's health, or we trying to vilify them because they are victims of a system which refuses to evolve?

Every year that goes by with these draconian laws is another year that will appear in future students' history books under the banner of "incredibly stupid drug laws, and the millions whose lifes that were ended or ruined because of it". It's like a "drugs holocaust".

I do not condone drug use in any shape or form, but think that criminalising people who are addicted only exacaerbates their problem and wastes government resources. If people realised that by decriminalising small amounts of recreational drugs, they could pay significantly less council tax due to not having all that time wasted by police, I am sure that they would agree. Prosecuting and criminalising people who only take drugs in the privacy of their own home is only wasting tax-payers money.

I am sure that when my grandson grows up, he will find it amazing and laughable that people could be arrested, charged and sent to prison or have their life ruined because they had a tiny amount of a plant extract in their pocket. And yes - cocaine comes from plants, so does morphine (and subsequently heroin after acetylation), khat, cannabis, magic mushrooms, the list goes on.

Prohibition in the USA left many people dead, blind or in prison, and made a huge amount of money for the mob, and nothing for the government. So why is it that almost a hundred years later has nobody learned from it?

Making drugs illegal only gives drug dealers employment, exactly the same as what happened during prohibition. Legalising posession of very small amounts of drugs, which could be bought from the government, would get rid of people selling drugs mixed with rat poison and provide a revenue stream for the government, which could be used to build hospitals or employ more police. Less people will die from drugs, the government will be richer, and drug dealers would be forced to get jobs and pay tax.

By making something which people want illegal, you are creating more Al Capones. And in doing so, you are not able to regulate what this "Al Capone" is selling, so people are dying because of outdated points of view within the government. In the mean time, the "Al Capones" WHICH YOU created are laughing all the way to the bank. And as a double-whammy, not only is the government losing out on potentially billions of pounds in tax, but they are also spending millions on enforcing rules based on old ideas which need to be updated. Not to mention the fact that many young people will get convicted for posession of plant matter who can no longer get a job because of this, so embark on a life of crime because nobody will employ them with a drug conviction.


Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

You can tell patients it's illegal or unsafe but if it means they can get what they want, in spite of their GP or Pharmacists advice, they'll still do it 

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