10 facts to know before using an online pharmacy
1. Section 58 of the Medicines Act 1968 (as amended) states that it is illegal to supply prescription drugs except through a registered pharmacist with a prescription issued by an appropriate prescriber.
This means consultations and prescriptions through registered online pharmacies work similarly to that of a brick and mortar practice. You discuss your ailment with a prescriber, they give you a prescription (if appropriate) and this is supplied by the chemist.
You cannot access prescription medications without a prescription.
Just because online pharmacies offer a more private consultation- this does not mean Doctors will prescribe you anything. Doctors are bound to prescribe only those that are legal and appropriate to the consultation. Especially in the online space, the General Medical Council (GMC) will crack down and will not hesitate to prosecute any inappropriate prescribing practice.
2. It is possible to acquire prescribed medications without a prescription from unregulated online websites. However, this is unsafe and unadvised. Medications can be harmful if their risk outweighs the benefits, so should only be prescribed under a suitable practitioner. You are also at risk of being sold fake medication. Viagra is a commonly counterfeited drug available in the online space [R].
3. The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) oversee medication safety and quality. A UK pharmacy can only sell pharmaceutical products licensed by the MHRA and will be listed on their seller’s list.
4. You can personally check if members of an online pharmacy are registered. A prescribing Doctor will be listed in the GMC register and the pharmacist will be listed in the General Pharmaceutical Council register. This might give you peace of mind if you are suspicious about an online pharmacy.
5. A Quick way to identify if an online Pharmacy is registered is by looking out for the logo below. This verification scheme by the MHRA and GPhC allows site visitors to click on the logo and view the pharmacy registration status. The logo is usually found at the bottom of every webpage.
6. Some patients choose online pharmacies because of anonymity. Patients that want to discuss something they find uncomfortable or embarrassing find it easier to speak to prescriber online for e.g. erectile dysfunction.
7. Busy people use online pharmacies to manage to order their monthly prescription. There is little waiting time to get through to a receptionist and you are not restricted by opening times. Online pharmacies provide convenience and an easy way to manage regular medications.
8. Counterfeit medicines are a huge problem in the online space. In 2015, more than half the medical products bought online were fake or unlicensed [R]. Regulated pharmacies both online and offline must now comply with the Falsified Medications Directive (FMD). This is a new 2019 law put into place by the MHRA that aims to eradicate counterfeit medication from the supply chain. It starts from production; giving the medication a barcode. This barcode is then entered into a national database and is tracked from manufacturer, to wholesaler and to the Pharmacist. Its barcode is beeped out once the Pharmacist hands it to the patient.
Every regulated pharmacy by law has to comply with the FMD law. So you will have the reassurance your medications are not counterfeit. Unregulated websites do not follow this law so you will never be certain where the medications come from and if they are safe to use.
9. Regulated Pharmacies also comply with the Data Protection Act 1985 and the new GDPR regulations. This means they have a duty to tell you how they will use any information they collect from you and keep it safe. They are not allowed to sell your information to third parties. Unregulated websites provide no guarantee of safety and your data can be easily misused or sold.
10. The government has a page you can access for all necessary information to look out for when scrutinising website legitimacy. It is imperative one does due diligence before accessing medications online.