Unregulated online pharmacies could be putting the health of people who buy drugs over the internet at risk, new research suggested.
A report found a boom in the number of internet pharmacies, many of which operate without proper credentials and offer ‘questionable’ drugs.
Internet fraud advisers MarkMonitor looked at 3,160 online pharmacies and found that only four were accredited as Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) – an industry credential which assures customers of a site’s legitimacy.
The research found 10 per cent of the sites studied clearly said no prescription was necessary to buy drugs.
More than a third had an average of 32,000 visitors each day.
In addition, the research claimed more than half did not secure financial information – putting customers at risk of identity fraud.
The research was based on tracking sales of six popular drugs, including two anti-cholesterol medications, one anti-psychotic, one sleep aid, one anti-anxiety and one lifestyle drug.
Charlie Abrahams, MarkMonitor’s vice-president in Europe, said sales of these drugs could be worth about £2 billion a year.
But as many of the sites offered prescription drugs for as little as one-fifth of the normal price, many were likely to be fake drugs, or out of date, he said, adding: ‘We were very surprised at the scale of this, very few are accredited.
‘It is very difficult to regulate something like the internet.
‘There appeared to have been a boom in the number of sites because of a demand by customers, many of whom did not like going to see a doctor one had to make an appointment and sometimes a visit could be embarrassing.’
But the problem was that in many cases drugs were being sold so cheaply that they could have been diluted, or simply be counterfeits.
A spokeswoman for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said they were making further inquiries into the report.
But she added they would advise consumers not to buy medicines over the internet.
She said: ‘They are licensed as medicines for a reason, in that professional advice should be sought prior to taking them to assess the necessity and suitability of the treatment.
‘Self prescribing is wholly inadvisable and if consumers buy off the internet they can expect at the very least to be ripped off and at worst have serious side effects to the drugs which they receive, which have completely bypassed the legitimate licensing process.
‘At any one time the MHRA is investigating around 100 cases where it believes there have been breaches of the Medicines Act relating to the illegal sale/supply of medicines via the internet.’
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