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Prescription drugs

Buying drugs online

The number of people buying prescription-only drugs online without a prescription or consultation is on the increase. But before you click the 'order' button, find out why buying drugs online is both risky and against the law.

The statistics:

  • Tens of thousands buy unprescribed medicine online while misused prescription drugs now kill 20,000 a year, nearly twice as many as 10 years ago;

  • According to an investigation by industry fraud advisors MarkMonitor in 2007, of 3,160 pharmacies found to be selling popular prescription drugs, only four had a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practise Site accreditation. Many more lied and said they had;

  • A 2008 survey commissioned by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has found that more than two million people in Britain regularly buy prescription drugs such as Prozac and Viagra on the internet. The RPS also found that up to 50% of all drugs seized are fakes;

  • The International Narcotics Control Board's annual report, released in March 2007, claims the abuse and trafficking of prescription drugs is set to exceed illicit drug abuse.

The drugs:

While a wide-range of prescription drugs are misused, the most common include opiate-based painkillers (Codeine), sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication (Valium), diet pills, antidepressants and stimulants like Ritalin.

The risks:

  • Buying prescription drugs online without proper medical consultation opens you up to all manner of additional dangers. Your personal medical history could mean that misusing these drugs would be lethal;

  • Many of these drugs are also highly addictive and can be used to create fatal cocktails;

  • By buying such drugs from non-accredited sites it is very likely that you won't get what you expect as many of the drugs are likely to be fake or out-of-date.

The law:

It is illegal to buy prescription-only drugs without a prescription or consultation in the UK, whether on or offline. This law currently does not apply to websites based abroad as long as you're buying for personal use. The same rule applies if you were to bring them through airport customs here.

Anabolic steroids are allowed, however the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will take action if they suspect that people plan to supply medication to others. The MHRA only has the power to close down British-based sites which break the law, it doesn't have jurisdiction over those based abroad.

There is currently a loophole in UK in the Medicines Act 1968 which means that although many drugs can be dispensed only after a patient has consulted a doctor, the consultation need not be face-to-face. Therefore quick online consultations with net doctors make such dodgy transactions legal.

The future:

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has begun rolling out a new internet pharmacy logo to help buyers judge whether a website is legitimate.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Misuse (APPGDM), a cross-party group of MPs and Peers, launched a new inquiry into the scale and nature of prescription-only and over-the-counter drug misuse in July 2007. The inquiry, facilitated by DrugScope, aims to provide an in-depth study of this area of drug misuse that is often unrecognised despite.

"The misuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines is a problem that has been affecting the UK for many years," says Dr Brian Iddon MP, chair of the APPGDM. "We know that thousands of people's lives have been affected by the misuse of drugs found in the home medicine cabinet or at the chemists.

"We are also increasingly concerned about the number of users buying medicines online, where they face the very real risk of buying counterfeit products that may be dangerous."

Thanks to DrugScope for help compiling this article.

Updated: 01/06/2011

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