The number of people buying prescription drugs online without a prescription is increasing significantly, according to a report by Pfizer and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

Over the past few years, several websites have been popping up selling prescription drugs to people that have access to the Internet, as an “easy” way for people to buy drugs. Pharmacists have stated that around 50% of their customers have admitted to buying drugs online.

A lot of people don’t understand the risks involved when purchasing prescription medicines on the Internet. Very often, the websites can seem legit and authorized, however, several sites are illegal and supply fake and even dangerous medicines to their customers.

It is these sites, in particular, that the report encourages people to stay away from.

Over half of pharmacists (56%) believe that people buy their drugs online to avoid the embarrassment of seeing a doctor and because of its quick and easy nature. The report makes it very clear that the risks of buying medications online greatly outweigh any potential benefits.

Counterfeit medicines can look very much like the real thing, they are designed in a way to even trick pharmacists into thinking they are the proper drug. The only way to tell if the medicine is real or fake is by testing it in a laboratory. That is why it’s vital to inform a doctor as soon as side effects occur from taking a medication. People need to make sure that the drug is purchased from a regulated and authorized pharmacy.

According to Neal Patel of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society:

“These are worrying statistics and it’s clear from our members that patients are still unaware of the potential risks associated with purchasing medicines online from unregulated or unverified websites. 73% of our members questioned suspect that this activity has become more common place in recent years and 85% believe it is a risk to people’s health and potentially their lives.”

He added:

“Some of these illegal sites are very professional and look like legitimate online pharmacies, but supply dangerous fakes or unlicensed medicines that have serious health implications. Our advice is clear; always buy medicines in person or online from a genuine UK bricks and mortar based pharmacy.”

The research, carried out by Pfizer and the RPS, is part of the Real Danger partnership campaign with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), HEART UK, The Patients Association, and The Men’s Health Forum (MHF). The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness about the dangers of buying medications online without a prescription.

A team of doctors in Sunderland previously described the serious health risks of buying drugs online in The Lancet.

For example, in February 2006, a 64 year old woman who diagnosed herself with chronic fatigue syndrome bought oral steroids prednisolone from a Thai website. Months later, she noticed her vision was failing and was taken to the accident and emergency department of the Sunderland Royal Infirmary. The doctors found that she had developed glaucoma and cataracts, caused by the medicine she bought online.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist