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Don Lavoie is alcohol programme manager at Public Health England and Gul Root is lead pharmacist, Health and Wellbeing Directorate, Public Health England
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13 May 2016

  • Industry logos ‘ineffective’
  • 54% don’t know how to verify legitimacy of online pharmacies
  • 95% would buy medication online if legitimacy could be verified
  • Value of counterfeit Viagra seized hits an all time high

Research out today has revealed that, in spite of measures being taken by the pharmaceutical industry to reassure consumers that the online pharmacy they are visiting is legitimate, only 39% of respondents were aware that a couple of simple checks could offer the reassurance they are looking for.

Last year, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) introduced a mandatory logo, for display on every page of any website offering medicines for sale to the general public. This, along with the presence of other logos such as that of the GPhC (General Pharmaceutical Council) on the website are intended to act as a ‘seal of approval’ for consumers.

However, a recent survey conducted by Oxford Online Pharmacy, revealed that less than half (39%) of respondents were aware of the role of the industry logos. Yet, of those that have not used an online pharmacy to purchase medication, 41% did not do so out of fear that their purchase would be counterfeit.

Almost 40% of respondents had come across an online pharmacy that they believed to be fake. For the majority of those respondents (31%), the offer of prescription only medication without a prescription was the tell tale sign that a site was selling counterfeit drugs. Only half (54%) felt they would be able to spot a fake online pharmacy.

When asked what would give them the greatest reassurance to purchase medication online, 44% cited the existence of a physical bricks and mortar arm of the business.

Respondents agreed almost unanimously (95%) that they would never buy from a source about whose legitimacy they had doubts and yet almost all respondents (95%) confirmed that they would use an online pharmacy if its legitimacy could be guaranteed.

Pharmacist, Stuart Gale, is the owner and manager of the Frost Pharmacy Group, which comprises three pharmacies in Banbury and Oxford as well as the online dispensing arm of the business, Oxford Online Pharmacy.

He explained: "The convenience of an online pharmacy, along with the discretion such a service provides for managing certain embarrassing conditions, is clearly something which appeals to customers. However, with so many counterfeit medicines making their way onto the market and almost daily horror stories of people suffering and even dying from taking them, it is not surprising that consumers don’t know where to turn.”

The market for fake medication, particularly for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, is significant. Recent figures revealed the value of counterfeit Viagra seized in the last year has risen to GBP 11 million, three times the amount of the previous year.

Gale continued: “Any steps taken by the industry to reassure consumers is to be encouraged. But, as our research shows, the message isn’t getting through. If you are unsure of the legitimacy of the online pharmacy you are using, there are some simple checks that you can make:

- Does the site belong to a registered UK-based pharmacy?
- Can you call up and speak to a pharmacist?
- Are GPHC and MHRA logos clearly visible on the site?
- Does the registered pharmacy link actually work?
- Are they offering prescription only medication without a prescription?

Gale added: “Prescription only medication is prescription only for a reason. It requires the involvement of a GP enabling them to diagnose the condition and identify the best medicine to treat the individual patient. If a site is offering Viagra, for example, without a prescription the message is simple: do not buy it - it is illegal and there is a strong chance that what you are buying will be fake and could adversely affect your health.”

Practice News

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