MHRA close down 1,600 illegal websites in medicines bust

keyboardFor a number of years Medical Specialists® Pharmacy – a safe, legitimate, fully registered online pharmacy with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) – have waged a war against the growing trade of illegal websites selling potentially fatal drugs.

Usually, these websites have been meticulously crafted together by crooks looking to make a quick buck from the unknowing customers that come to them. Often the websites pretend to be that of a real pharmacy, but in reality, there are no doctors, pharmacists, or anyone with a health-related background involved in the illegal ‘pharmacy’, and the medicines and usually poorly made counterfeits too.

Unfortunately, these websites are springing up across all the major search engines, such as Google, and look to draw-in unsuspecting customers with suspiciously low prices and outrageously illegal offers on prescription drugs, such as “buy one get one free!”…This is particularly common amongst erectile dysfunction treatments such as Viagra and Cialis. However, imagine going to your own GP and he offers you 10 free Viagra tablets if you pay for 20 Cialis tablets to begin with, it is an absurd thought process, but it is the kind of thing that appears on illicit drug websites. There are also countless other easy ways to spot a fake online pharmacy.

The good news though is that medicines regulator The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have successfully clamped down on these illegal websites, according to a new study.

The On Tap Report, conducted by UK defence and security think tank the Royal United Services Institute, states that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of such websites shut down, soaring from 200 in 2010 to more than 1,800 by 2014.

The fact there are so many websites emerging has been pinpointed to the fairly ‘low-risk and high reward’ involved with such illicit activities. For example, there is only a two year maximum prison sentence carried for offences under the 1968 Medicines Act. Not only this, most medicines are easy to duplicate because of standardised tablet sizes, vials and packets, due to high levels of regulation.

The report explains how the trade of illegal drug websites has managed to thrive primarily due to the relatively unregulated environment that is the internet. Unsurprisingly, most illegal pharmaceuticals are obtained over the internet compared to within high street pharmacies. In addition, it is estimated that more than half of our spam emails contain links to illegal websites, usually selling counterfeit drugs.

MHRA enforcement group manager Alastair Jeffrey spoke about the work of the MHRA in fighting the illegal websites and the risk they pose to the public.

He commented: “We welcome this report and as the UK regulator of medicines and medical devices, we are focused on tackling the illegal medicines trade. The report identifies much of the good work currently being undertaken by us and other government agencies.

“Our priority is to protect public health and while the involvement of organised crime in the illegal trade of medicines is not new, our work continues to evolve to counter the growing influence of the internet and other factors. We’re exploring the report’s recommendations, a number of which are already being addressed by the provisions of the Falsified Medicines Directive which has been implemented in the UK and is coming into force in stages.

“We would reiterate our advice that people should be alert to the risks of buying medicines online from illegitimate sources – medicines supplied cannot be guaranteed to meet set standards of quality and safety – in short, you don’t know what you’re getting, where it came from or if it’s safe for you to take. If you have a specific health concern, our advice is to consult an appropriate healthcare professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist.”

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