Call for stricter rules on online drug sales

TOUGHER safeguards are needed to protect people buying medicines online, including a ban on the sale of drugs such as antibiotics and opiates, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has warned.

The regulator said it is concerned that it can be “too easy” to purchase drugs on the internet that are not clinically appropriate.

It has published a consultation paper calling for stricter guidance for UK-based online pharmacies.

Among the proposals is a ban on online sales of medicines such as opiates, antibiotics, asthma inhalers and Botox without first contacting the patient’s GP.

It also questions whether it is appropriate for pharmacy websites to allow patients to choose a prescription-only medicine, and its quantity, before consulting a prescriber. On some pharmacy websites, the Council reported, a patient only has to answer an online questionnaire before the prescriber makes their prescribing decision, and can fill in multiple questionnaires, learning what answers to give so they can get the medicine in question.

The paper highlights potential risks to patients from pharmacy owners who work with non-UK prescribers or prescribing services. The Council wants pharmacies to ensure non-UK prescribers adhere to UK guidelines and to relevant legislation and guidance in their home country.

GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin said: “We are concerned that patients may be able to access medicines that are not clinically appropriate for them from online primary care services. Medicines are not ordinary items of commerce, and must not be treated as such.

"We want to play our part in strengthening the safeguards in place for patients and the public through the guidance we set for pharmacy owners and through our inspections of online pharmacy services.”

The discussion paper is open for comments until August 21, 2018 at www.pharmacyregulation.org/online-pharmacy