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'Urgent' need to deal with illegal online antibiotic sales

Dr Sara Boyd: “These findings raise several important issues regarding patient safety with online pharmacies.”

Researchers have called for "urgent" action after nine of 20 online pharmacies investigated were found to be illegally selling antibiotics to the UK market.

The report from the Imperial College London, published last Friday (February 17), said that antibiotics are illegally available without prescription on 45% of the online pharmacy websites surveyed in its "snapshot" research of the market.

In 80% of cases, patients were allowed to choose what antibiotic they received, the dose and the quantity, researchers found.

All online pharmacies selling medicines to UK consumers must have formal registration with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and display a compulsory EU logo, however 75% of the online pharmacies surveyed lacked evidence of having met these legal requirements.

Operating location “unclear”

The five online pharmacies identified as operating from within Great Britain were registered with both the MHRA and the GPhC and required a prescription before antibiotics were delivered, the report found.

However, it was “unclear” in 50% of cases where the online pharmacy was operating from. Three online pharmacies were based in India and two in Cyprus, according to the report.

The MHRA confirmed to C+D today (February 20) it had received “information” regarding the online pharmacies identified as illegally selling antibiotics, but it could not confirm the names of the pharmacies under investigation.

There is “limited action that can be taken” on the websites hosted outside of the UK, but MHRA will “liaise with the host country” where necessary, it stressed.

Researchers recognised the limitations of the research, but said it uncovered an “urgent need to improve the surveillance of online antibiotic sales”.

“At present there is no way to estimate the acquisition of antibiotics through legal or illegal online pharmacies," the report said. 

The researchers called for an "efficient and operational multidisciplinary taskforce"  to crackdown on the illegal online selling of prescription only medicines.

Dr Sara Boyd, co-author of the NHS-backed study, said: “These findings are a real concern, and raise several important issues regarding antibiotic resistance and patient safety with online pharmacies.”

RPS reacts

Commenting on the study, Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Martin Astbury said: “We cannot support access to antibiotics through a web form until the standards for prescribing by private providers reflect the standard of face-to-face consultations in the NHS.”

"Those involved in supplying medicines online should ensure their processes are as robust as possible," he added.

The MHRA launched a #FakeMeds campaign at the end of last year to highlight the dangers, and to give patients tips on buying medicines online.

What needs to be done to curb the illegal selling of antibiotics online?

R Patel, Community pharmacist

Why was Gphc not the body that investigated this. Why do they wait for someone else to find out before they act. As it is these online pharmacies are touting for repeat prescription business, dossette box dispensing, OTC medicine sales and the Gphc is not applying stringent guidelines.

All online pharmacies should not be allowed to supply POMS--end of matter. Public needs to go for a face to face consultation with a health professional.let them buy vitamins and makeup online but not POMS.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Would the GPhC highlighting the legal websites help any? There are many people who are not as tech savvy who wouldn't really know the difference.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

This whole thing may well be self defeating because there will be a lot of people who had never even thought of getting antibiotics off the internet that now know its a possibility. Best bit of advertising these foreign sites could ever have.

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

This is a bit like banning fire-arms - only the law-abiding are affected. Those who act illegally will simply carry on as before. You can't even take the position of "If people are stupid/selfish enough to buy antibiotics illegally on the internet, they get all they deserve" because, ultimately, this will impact on all of us, irrespective of how foolishly or sensibly we behave #globalcrisis

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

It probably won't affect us as much as you think. If anyone is stupid enough to buy antibiotics off the internet (especially from abroad) then a) they don't need them and b) probably won't get what they expected anyway. I don't think antibiotic resistance is caused by sugar tablets.

C D, Community pharmacist

I doubt it as none of them were based in the UK. Shame the article wasn't entitled "honest UK shows the way for online pharmacy".

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

It seems that internet pharmacy is wide open to corruption and illegal activity. once again it's a few money grabbers that get the rest of us a bad name. As Mr Kent said below - lets hope the GPhC throw the book at them. I'm not holding my breath though.

David Kent, Community pharmacist

I trust that al these pharmacies will be referred to the GPhC for further action.

E simon, Community pharmacist

But what does a pharmacy in Cyprus or India have to fear from the GPhC of Great Britain?



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