More and more people in the UK are ditching high street pharmacies in favour of online pharmacies when buying medicine. A staggering 28 million people say they would happily buy medicine online. However, these people could be putting their health at risk because they lack the ability to check whether the medicine they buy online is genuine.
The risks of illegitimate online pharmacies
According to a recent survey by The Independent Pharmacy, 83% of people in the UK do not know how to check whether an online pharmacy is legitimate, or simply a shady website out to profit rather than help.
The problem of illegitimate online pharmacies has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with a recent BBC Panorama episode putting the issue under the spotlight. There have been numerous reported cases of at-risk patients, such as opioid addicts or those suffering from bulimia, buying dangerous medicines that can cause serious, lasting damage, or even death.
Insufficient patient checks, poorly-made medicine, and a lack of regulatory oversight mean thousands of patients are at risk. Combined with the public’s inability to check whether the medicine they buy online is genuine or not, this makes for a serious issue.
Scott McDougall (MPharm), co-founder and registered manager of The Independent Pharmacy, said:
“Buying medicine safely off the internet isn’t always easy. Not only are online pharmacies not regulated to the same extent, but some are also completely illegal and unregistered.
“Unless the millions of people that buy medicine online know how to spot a legitimate online pharmacy and check medicine authenticity, they could be putting their health at risk.”
Over-55s are most at risk
The Independent Pharmacy also found that 94% of over-55s are unable to check the authenticity of medicine bought online.
Dr Don Grant (MB, ChB, DRCOG, MRCGP, Dip.orth.med), clinical lead at The Independent Pharmacy, said:
“Typically, the over 55s are the most vulnerable as they often require more medication, and yet they may not be as aware of online safety as younger generations who were brought up with tech.
“Not only is there a need to provide further education on how to identify a safe online pharmacy, but it’s also important to keep an open dialogue with healthcare professionals across the industry about the standards of prescribing sites and medicines to ensure a collaborative future between online and offline providers and encourage safer patient care.”
Currently, online pharmacies must register with a number of regulatory bodies. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the primary regulator of the UK’s healthcare services. If an online pharmacy is not registered with the CQC, it might exploit loopholes by using EU-based doctors or pharmacists. These individuals are not regulated by UK bodies, and as such, can potentially pose risks to patients.
To help the public achieve this, The Independent Pharmacy has created a guide to online healthcare to help patients stay safe when they buy medicine online.
While online pharmacies are a convenient way of buying medicine online, the risk of illegitimate, unregulated online pharmacies is a growing problem. As the survey conducted by The Independent Pharmacy reveals, millions of patients in the UK could be at risk. It’s therefore vital that the public educate themselves and learn to spot a genuine online pharmacy to keep themselves safe online.