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Renewed concern about buying medicines online

The new report comes from the U.K. Care Quality Commission and it highlights a number of areas of concern. These relate to people self-diagnosing and buying inappropriate medicines to the sale of medicines that are fake. With fake (or ‘falsified’) medicines the medicines may simply not contain any active ingredient and therefore not work, or the medicines may contain chemicals that are harmful.

The Care Quality Commission places part of the blame upon Internet providers. On reviewing eleven providers operating in the U.K., the organization found some “potentially presenting a significant risk to patients”.

In a recent review, the Care Quality Commission has looked into the selling of antibiotics. Focusing on two websites the review found there was “little clinical oversight” in the way many websites sold such medications. Speaking with the BBC, Professor Steve Field, who heads up the Care Quality Commission said: “Some of these websites prescribed unlicensed medicines and – even more worryingly – medicines for diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and Lithium for bipolar disorder.”

The regulator was especially concerned about the lack of checks involved in the medicine ordering process. This means a person can go online and order a product by simply answering some very cursory questions.

To help address this, for the U.K. at least, the Care Quality Commission has drawn up a new set of standards laying out the checks that online pharmacies must undertake before selling a medicinal product. These include the use of Skype to verify the patient’s identity. Consumers must also be prepared to answer questions on their medical history.

With the sale of prescription medicines, the head of the U.K.’s medicines standards body (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency MHRA), Gerald Heddell said: “Prescription-only medicines are prescription only for a reason and should only be taken under the supervision of a healthcare professional.”

This means, within the new Care Quality Commission framework, there is also a requirement for online pharmacies operating out of the U.K. to ensure that they have qualified pharmacists working for them. While these measures offer new protections they do not apply to international based pharmacies, where different nations will have differing levels of regulation.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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