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Counterfeit drugs: Facts and figures

  • 2.3 million doses of unlicensed medicines were seized by the MHRA in conjunction with the UK Border Force, including 68,000 doses of counterfeit medicines
  • The MHRA said more than 384 websites were suspended in the UK and a further 120 domain names were shut down
  • 50% of pharmacists know customers who have admitted getting prescription-only medicines through illicit online sources
  • 85% of respondents strongly agreed there are health risks by bypassing the legitimate healthcare system
  • 73% of pharmacists felt that over recent years, there has been a rise in the number of people getting prescription-only medicine online.

Medicines sold via internet 'may contain arsenic'

The harsh reality is that unlicensed or fake medicines, easily accessible online, can contain harmful ingredients such as arsenic.

They are often produced by people with no appropriate qualifications and can contain no pharmaceutical ingredients at all.

Some fake medicines can contain totally different ingredients to the labelled active ingredients, some of which may interact with other medications, exacerbate other ailments or simply be toxic.

Buying prescription-only medicines without a prescription has frightening consequences of which we want to make the public aware. Fake medicines can cause harm to patients, which can sometimes lead to death.

– Dr Berkeley Phillips, medical director at Pfizer

'Huge demand' for illegal medicines

Counterfeit and unlicensed medicines are potentially lethal - you have no assurances about ingredients, quality or how the medicines have been made.

Despite these risks, our recent seizures of vast quantities of illegal medicines demonstrate that there is still a huge demand in the UK.

This campaign aims to further educate the public so they are aware of the potential dangers and we can work towards halting this dangerous criminal market.

– Nimo Ahmed, head of enforcement at the MHRA,

Illegal drugs 'have serious health implications'

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.

– Neal Patel, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)

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£34m worth of illegal medicines 'seized'

£34m worth of medicine has been supplied illegally, the Agency said Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Archive

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have announced that in the past five years, officials have seized more than £34m worth of medicine supplied illegally.

A group of health organisations have launched the Real Danger campaign to raise awareness about the risks of buying prescription medicines online through unregulated channels without a prescription.

Officials warned that unlicensed or fake medicines could contain harmful ingredients such as arsenic and could potentially be lethal.

Rise in purchase of medicines online

More drugs are being sold online, pharmacists have said Credit: Julien Behal/PA Wire

More and more people are buying medicines online without a prescription, according to pharmacists.

A poll by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and pharmaceutical company Pfizer reveals that three-quarters of pharmacists believe it has become more common.

Out of 650 pharmacists questioned, almost half knew of a customer who had turned to the internet to get hold of a medicine.

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