ITV News Investigation: Prescription medicines bought online contain Class A drugs

Lawrence McGinty

Former Science and Medical Editor

The packaging the drugs arrived in

When we started our investigation into buying medicines on the internet, we expected to find some dodgy practices. But we were astonished (to say the least) by the lab tests on two of the compounds we bought which showed they were contaminated by addictive tranquillisers and by the Class A drug of abuse Crystal Meth.

We bought Prozac and Codeine from two websites. These are both prescription only drugs that should only be taken after seeing a doctor. But we bought them freely - after a cursory questionnaire in one case. Professor Jayne Lawrence of King's College London, Chief Science Advisor to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, helped in our investigation, as did Dr Cristina Legido-Quigley from the college, who conducted the drug analysis.

Prof Lawrence told us if you're offered prescription only drugs on a website, you know its suspect and any sale would be illegal.

Lawrence McGinty reports:

The Codeine arrived in an envelope postmarked in India. The tablets were in blister packs sandwiched between tatty bits of cardboard and wrapped in cling film. There was none of the information you usually get about doses or possible side effects.

The Prozac arrived from Bucharest with a letter purporting to be from a doctor giving scant advice.

These are both potent substances and frankly anyone taking these drugs as they arrived at ITN's office would be bonkers. This much we expected.

But we were utterly taken aback by the results of the analysis of these compounds in Professor Lawrence's research lab, equipped with the latest technology.

The Prozac was contaminated by a substance called Metamphetamine. You probably know it better as Crystal Meth, a Class A drug of abuse which is highly addictive.

The codeine had 20 different contaminants, including two powerful benzodiazepines. One, triazolam is a psychotic that can cause psychiatric disturbances and birth defects. The other, Flunitrazepam, is also known as the date rape drug Rohypnol.

Prof. Lawrence told us these contaminants could cause serious health problems even in the low concentrations found in the medicines we bought.

How did they get there? The most likely explanation is that whoever made these drugs was not too fussy about cleaning out their equipment between successive batches. After making some Crystal Meth, they switched to Prozac and didn't clean the vessel.

That suggests illicit manufacturers are making both drugs of abuse and medicines for sale on the internet. Indeed people in the medicines watchdog, the MHRA, told us they thought illicit medicines was now a bigger business than illegal drugs of abuse.

The lesson from what we found? Well, I failed Latin, but I remember one phrase - Caveat Emptor. It means "buyer beware". If you buy medicines on the internet you have no idea what you're getting. Unless you're absolutely certain you're dealing with a reputable website, don't do it.