News | July 01, 2008

Report Shows 96 Percent of Web-Based Pharmacies are Operated Illegally

July 2, 2008 - The European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines (EAASM) has today unveiled its comprehensive research report, “The Counterfeiting Superhighway,” which reveals that a frightening 62 percent of medicines purchased online are fake or substandard.

These include medicines indicated to treat serious conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease, neurological disorders and mental health conditions, the report found.

The rapid growth of illegal online pharmacies means there is a higher risk that fake medicines will reach patients. Untrained, unsuspecting consumers are extremely vulnerable to the potentially lethal outcomes of buying medicines online. “The Counterfeiting Superhighway” report reveals the scope and repercussions of this growing, dangerous practice through extensive research and examination.

Following in-depth analysis of more than 100 online pharmacies, commonly purchased prescription-only medicines were ordered online. All medicines were delivered without requiring a prescription. The report’s authors said this is illegal and presents a serious threat to public health.

Expert visual and chemical analysis of the prescription-only medicines purchased online compounded the desk research findings:
- 95.6 percent of online pharmacies researched are operating illegally.
- 94 percent of Web sites do not have a named, verifiable pharmacist.
- More than 90 percent of Web sites supply prescription-only medicines without a prescription.
- 86 percent of online “pharmacy approval” stamps are fake.

The report demonstrates there is a three in five chance of receiving fake or substandard medicine when you buy online. Only 38 percent of the medicines received were found to be genuine branded medicines, 16 percent of these were illegal non-EU imports (genuine products, imported into the EU illegally from a non-EU country) and 33 percent did not have patient information leaflets, which in itself is also illegal and potentially dangerous to consumers' health, the author’s said.

The report said on a number of occasions, the life-saving cardiovascular medicine Plavix was supplied with free Viagra (or products purporting to be these medicines). The authors said anyone who is taking medicines for a serious heart condition should be under close medical supervision, especially when taking a cocktail of drugs for other conditions, including erectile dysfunction.

“I was alarmed to see that a number of the ‘medicines’ delivered were accompanied by free, unsolicited tablets, provided without any medical assessment,” said Dr. Ian Banks, president, European Men’s Health Forum. “Far from rewarding consumers with ‘bonus pills,’ this practice shows that these unscrupulous, criminal online drug traders appear willing to potentially risk the health and well-being of their customers.”

Other cardiovascular and respiratory drugs or counterfeit drugs purchased online included Lipitor, Seretide, Coversyl, Micardis and Spiriva.

The report offers several recommendations. The report suggests that popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN should remove Web pages from search results, which advertise counterfeit medicines. This tactic has already proved successful in preventing people from accessing child pornography Web sites, so surely similar success can be achieved with combating illegal online pharmacies.

“The report findings are shocking and the story it tells demands action,” Jim Thomson, chair, EAASM. “Consumers are susceptible to fake medicines, which could harm their health, and in extreme cases be deadly. The EAASM calls on all stakeholders including search engines, credit card companies, shipping companies, patient groups and regulators, to take action and halt this dangerous trend.”

EAASM was founded in 2007 and is an independent, cross-sector voice representing European patients’ rights to access safe medicines. The alliance acts to raise awareness of the risks of counterfeit and substandard medicines to patient safety, address the shortcomings of current legislation and enforcement, and campaign for greater protection for European patients.

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