The Galway based president of the Irish Pharmacy Union has warned people about the dangers of buying medicines on the internet.
Darragh O’Loughlin said it appears that the quantities of illegal medicines captured at the point of entry into the country had risen dramatically.
He said the increased availability of broadband coupled with consumers interest in saving money were some of the reasons why they choose to purchase medicines on the web.
“The problem appears to be increasing. The Revenue Commissioners, the Customs and the Irish Medicines Board seem to be capturing far more illegal products. It seems that the quantity of medicines being captured at the point of entry has increased dramatically.”
Research reveals some people buy medicines online to avoid the expense of GP visits, others for privacy reasons.
However, Mr O’Loughlin of Medwell Pharmacy in Tuam, warned people may be risking their health.
“People see buying on the internet as a way of saving on doctors’ fees and feel the medicines may be cheaper than in a pharmacy. But it can be dangerous because some of what you’re buying may not be what you think they are. They could contain something toxic or harmful or a substance which interacts with other medication you are taking and could worsen an existing medical condition.”
A US study revealed there were several different categories of medicines on sale on the internet. While some were “as it says on the box” others contained ingredients not listed on the packaging, had none of the active ingredients or contained incorrect levels.
Some slimming products, for example, claimed to be natural but contained stimultants which if used long term could have serious effects, he warned. A woman in the UK thought she was buying a natural medicine to treat her allergies but it contained steroids. Equally, a person might be buying medication for cholesterol but it would not contain any active ingredient.
Drugs to treat erectile dysfuction are popular online purchases, he said. “People get e-mails [promoting these drugs] but you don’t know where these e-mails are coming from. The drugs are often produced in China and the packaging is made to look like Viagra. A lot are from central China and Thailand and are backstreet laboratories. They are generally from remote areas and there is not the same level of surveillance. Somebody is forging tablets and selling them illegally - by definition they are a criminal - and you are buying them with your credit card and giving them your credit details. It is important that people consider the origins of these medicines and the sort of person who is selling them. Is that the person you would trust with your credit card details?”
He advised people against self-diagnosis urging them instead to seek the professional advice of a doctor or pharmacist.
“People go online and diagnose themselves but they shouldn’t. If you have symptoms go to a doctor or pharmacy. Get information from a professional. It is always easy to misdiagnose yourself if you have no training.”
By buying prescription medicines online people are committing an offence, Mr O’Loughlin stressed. “It is illegal in Ireland to buy or sell prescription medicines through the internet. So, far the Irish Medicines Board have not prosecuted anyone.”