People 'dying' due to fake online pharmacies, former watchdog investigator says

A former employee of the medicines watchdog, the MHRA, has told ITV News that not enough is being done to stop fake online pharmacies selling illegal prescription drugs. Sam Holder reports.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) isn’t doing enough to tackle fake online pharmacies, according to its former investigator.

Stephen Truick was responsible for taking down websites illegally selling prescription drugs until he left the MHRA in 2016.

An ITV News investigation uncovered dozens of websites, posing as legitimate pharmacies, selling powerful and addictive drugs with no questions asked. The pills arrive without any instructions or warnings about dosage or potential side effects.

Details of these websites were passed on to the MHRA, but more than a week later, they remain up and running.

“People are dying because of these websites. It's as simple as that” said Stephen Truick, “we used to be able to shut down these sites within 24 hours”.

“I don't think the MHRA have got the capability anymore”.

Our investigation showed that many of the drugs being sold on these sites are not what they claim. Some contain completely different active ingredients and others are far more potent than advertised.

Customers who use these websites are offered significant discounts for bulk purchases and are sent out promotions by email.

The MHRA say that, along with their global partners, they helped close down 34,000 illegally trading websites and pages.

Dr Alison Cave, MHRA Chief Safety Officer, told ITV News: “Patient safety is always our highest priority.

“The illegal sale of medicines poses serious risk to public health, and we continuously work with our national and international partners to prevent unlicensed medicines from entering the UK, and to bring the criminals behind this illegal trade to justice.”

The Labour Party has submitted a letter of concern to the Health Secretary, Stephen Barclay, demanding the MHRA takes swift action against the websites identified by ITV News.

“Not only is this a criminal practice, but it also puts patient safety at serious risk”, wrote Feryal Clark, the shadow minister for patient safety.

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this article, the following charities offer support:

  • Action of Addiction works across all areas of treatment, research, family support and professional education - 0300 330 0659

  • Frank offers confidential advice and information about drugs, their effects and the law - 0300 123 6600

  • Narcotics Anonymous offers support for anyone who wants to stop using drugs - 0300 999 1212

  • Release offers free and confidential advice about drugs and the law on its helpline on 020 7324 2989 or email:

  • We Are With You supports people with drug, alcohol or mental health problems, and their friends and family

  • The UK Addiction Treatment Group offers free online information and guidance for prescription drug addiction as well as a 24/7 confidential helpline on 0808 274 8029.

  • You can also discuss addiction issues with your GP

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