Dark side of online pharmacies brings “worrying new trend”

By Kitty Knowles 17 February 2017

Online pharmacies are putting your health at risk.

Being able to order the pills you want online might sound convenient, but digital pharmacies are actually putting our health at risk.

A number of online-only pharmacies are breaking the law and are likely fuelling global resistance to antibiotics, a new study from Imperial College London suggests.

Prescriptions, please

The thing about antibiotics is, while they can help to kill off nasty bugs, the more they are taken by a population, the less effective they are: the bad bacteria simply becomes resistant to the drugs that once killed them.

That’s not just bad for you, it’s bad for everyone:

Today antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development, states the World Health Organization (WHO).

That’s why, legally, you can’t just buy antibiotics in shops. You have to be prescribed them by a doctor, who will reserve them for when they are absolutely vital.

A black market

What’s happening online however, is that 45% of online pharmacies are making antibiotics illegally available without prescription, researchers reveal today in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

Despite the fact that self-medication lead to serious side effects, just 30% of online pharmacies ask consumers to complete a health questionnaire prior to purchase.

And what’s more, 80% allow their customers choose the dosage and duration of their preferred antibiotic treatment.

The big picture

Imperial’s researchers, who analysed 20 popular online pharmacies for research, recognise their study is a ‘snapshot’ of the industry – but hasn’t muted their concerns.

In fact, Dr Sara Boyd, an Infectious Diseases and Microbiology specialist, said the study will pave the way for “more thorough research into this worrying new trend”.

“The way patients interact with healthcare is constantly evolving, and shifts in consumer behaviour mean more people are purchasing their goods online,” she explained.

“These findings are a real concern.”

Other experts, including Martin Astbury, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, spoke of the “major impact” on public health the illegal antibiotics could be having.

“We cannot support access to antibiotics through a web form until the standards for prescribing by private providers reflect the standard of face to face consultations in the NHS,” he said.

All online pharmacies identified as illegally selling antibiotics were reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

But if we want to keep everyone healthy and happy, best think twice before buying antibiotics online.