HALF of pharmacists say they know of patients who have bought prescription drugs online without a prescription, a new survey warns.
A further four out of 10 say they have been approached by patients asking how to access drugs on the internet. The figures were revealed in a survey carried out by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
The trend has prompted medicines regulator MHRA and organisations including The Patients Association to issue a warning to patients not to source medicines online.
As well as no guarantee of the quality or effectiveness of the medication, there are risks of potentially hazardous drug interactions, particularly if patients do not tell their GP about the medication.
The MHRA advises: “Prescription only medicines should only be taken in consultation with a healthcare professional. This is particularly important when you are [taking various] medicines at the same time, because interactions between medicines may cause side effects.”
The RPS survey, carried out in September, included the responses of almost 1,300 pharmacists working in a variety of settings.
More than half of those questioned (56 per cent) believe that people purchase prescription-only medicine from unregulated online sources because they are too embarrassed to visit a GP or because they believe they can get hold of medication quicker.
Three-quarters of respondents feel there has been an increase in people bypassing the healthcare system to self-diagnose and then self-medicate, missing out on essential checks that would normally be carried out by a qualified healthcare professional.
Half of those surveyed knew of patients who admitted buying prescription-only medicines through illicit websites and 85 per cent thought this was a risk to people’s health and potentially their lives.
Neal Patel of the RPS said: “These are worrying statistics and it’s clear from our members that patients are still unaware of the potential risks associated with purchasing medicines online from unregulated or unverified websites.
“Some of these illegal sites are very professional and look like legitimate online pharmacies, but supply dangerous fakes or unlicensed medicines that have serious health implications. Our advice is clear: always buy medicines in person or online from a genuine UK bricks and mortar based pharmacy.”
Figures from the MHRA show the agency has seized more than £34 million of illegally traded medicines and more than 380 websites have been suspended in the UK.