The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is warning people to be careful when buying medicines online, as new figures reveal millions of counterfeit erectile dysfunction pills were seized in the UK last year.
Taking unlicensed medication bought online is a big risk, as there’s no way of knowing what’s in it or what effect it will have on you, and it could make you ill. It could contain no active ingredients at all, or include unknown toxic ingredients that are dangerous to health.
The MHRA says: ‘Erectile problems in general affect up to 21% of men in the UK, equivalent to around 4.3 million people. Despite this, 44% of men with erectile dysfunction (ED) aged 40 and over have not sought professional medical help and may be buying fake products online.’
According to the MHRA, more than half of all medicines and medical devices bought online are fake or counterfeit. It’s not always easy to tell, either. The MHRA says illegal traders often pose as legitimate suppliers, selling medicines unlicensed for the UK market at tempting prices lower than the real deal.
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Buying erectile dysfunction pills: what you need to know
Sildenafil pills (sold as Viagra) are now available without a prescription. This means you can buy them over the counter – or from a legitimate online pharmacy – but you’ll need to have a consultation with the pharmacist or complete an online health screening check before you can purchase them.
This is to make sure they are safe for you to take, taking into account any underlying health conditions you have or other medication you may be on.
Some people might feel tempted to skip that awkward conversation with the pharmacist, or save money, by buying these products online, but doing this poses a serious health risk unless you take care to buy from a reputable source.
You can buy erectile dysfunction medication online from legitimate pharmacy websites including Boots, Lloyds and Superdrug, but you’ll need to complete a questionnaire about your health to determine whether the drug is suitable for you.
Questions you’ll be asked include details about previous or ongoing health issues such as high blood pressure, and lifestyle questions including how much alcohol you drink and whether you smoke.
If for any reason you don’t pass this screening check, it’s best to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what other help is available.
Buying medicine online: how to spot legitimate suppliers and avoid the fakes
It’s not just erectile dysfunction drugs you need to be cautious about – the internet is rife with counterfeit medicines and health products.
The MHRA has previously issued warnings around fake diet pills, condoms and STI testing kits, as part of its ‘#FAKEMEDS‘ campaign urging people to exercise caution when purchasing medical and health products online.
There are some simple checks you can do to avoid getting caught out, though.
Look for the logos
Anyone selling medicines online must register with the MHRA and display a distance selling logo (above, left) on all pages of the website.
The MHRA has a list of registered suppliers which can be viewed on their website. Individual sellers can be checked by clicking the logo and connecting to the MHRA’s list for authentication.
You can also look for the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) logo (above, right) which links to the GPhC website and tells you if the pharmacy has been inspected or has had any enforcement notices issues against it.
Medical devices, such as contact lenses and STI testing kits, that meet UK safety requirements should be affixed with a CE mark (above, middle) to denote their conformity to the regulations.
Fake medicines and dodgy websites: telltale signs to look for
The best way to stay safe is to only buy from legitimate suppliers displaying the logos mentioned above. Here are some more things to look out for if you aren’t sure:
- Beware of shoddy-looking websites Poor design, annoying pop-ups and spelling or grammatical errors can all be warning signs that you’ve landed on a dodgy website
- Avoid suspicious URLs Legitimate websites will not use product names as their domain name
- Outlandish claims and low prices Claims such as ‘100% safe, no side effects’ or ‘quick results’ should be red flags, as are cut prices and speedy delivery promises
As for the medicines themselves, this is often harder to spot, so the best defense is to be careful of where you buy from. However, look out for these warning signs:
- Bad packaging Medicines with a homemade appearance or ones that are open or damaged should be avoided
- Check the expiry date Medicines that have passed their expiry date, or do not appear to have one displayed on the packaging, won’t provide reliable results
If you think you’ve spotted some dodgy medicine, you can report it to the MHRA using its Yellow Card scheme.
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