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Online pharmacy, rather a can of worms...

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In order to research this topic (which for some reason simply incepted itself in my mind while I was trying to get some sleep), I started with an unsophisticated ‘Google search’. I rarely use random websites which are found this way, however I still find it a good way to ‘get my head around’ a new topic. While I expected a few websites selling medicines to come- up, I also expected to find some informing me about online pharmacy, including the omnipresent Wikipedia article. I was unpleasantly surprised at the search result. For 5 whole pages (ask any ‘seasoned Googler’ and I’m sure they will tell you they never reach the fifth page) every single website wanted to sell me drugs. Every one.

This got me thinking, how many of these sites are legal? Surely not all of them? Well I never found out for each one, because as it turns out it’s quite a tricky subject…

Whilst I came across a few websites which seemed ‘ok’ (usually pre- order sites run by the major pharmacy chains), after a bit more reading (of more accurate sources than just Google I hasten to add) I start to uncover some truths. The problem is legal loopholes. Many of these sites are foreign and this creates all sorts of problems with enforcement of homeland medicines law. A good example of this is actually from the States; according to US law it is illegal to privately import (i.e. order online from a foreign company) prescription- only medicines for personal use: simple enough. However, this law does not apply for foreign- made versions of US approved drugs. Therefore, while the formulation may be sound, this loophole allows foreign companies to sell their own brands at a much lower cost, undercutting US homeland companies. This may be bad, but it gets worse. In the states it is also illegal to import non- approved POM drugs (unsurprisingly), however certain clauses within the law actually make it possible for ‘patients’ to keep possession of the illegally imported medicine if it reaches them! This is usually when the medicines origins cannot be traced and the patient is not deemed to be ‘at risk’, though try as I might, I could not ascertain the process for deciding if a patient is ‘not at risk’ of taking a medicine they illegally imported. Surely the medicine is illegal for a reason? There are also very similar examples in UK law.

While I could carry on with this topic, I would end up making the same point; there is no wonder so much of the internet is flooded with the illegal sale of pharmaceuticals, mainly due to huge profitability, inevitable loopholes and limited enforcement. I would like to finish with one final section of law, which emphasises my latter point; that, in the unlikely event of border control seizing illegally imported medicines, these are retained and the recipient is contacted asking for proof of legality to import such items. The joke is this; if the recipient does not provide proof of legality, border control simply send the package back to the foreign distributors! They therefore are not reprimanded or even out-of-pocket and so can just ship the same medicine into the same country when the next customer goes online in the search for cheaper medicines…

 

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