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.
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.
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 '' 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.
Anyone selling medicines online must register with the MHRA and display a distance selling logo (above, left) on all pages of the website.
You can also look for the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) logo (above, right) which links to the 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.
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:
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: