“Problem is now at epidemic proportions” – Mairead McGuinness
Mairead McGuinness MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament has today called for a national awareness campaign to highlight the grave dangers to the health and wellbeing of consumers from deadly falsified medicines bought online.
“Research shows that this problem has reached epidemic proportions with 62pc of online sales of medicines being substandard or falsified,” she said. Her call comes in the wake of the recent death of a young man in Ireland linked to the purchase of such a product. “This very sad case should serve as a warning about how extremely risky buying medicinal products over the internet can be.” It is believed he bought slimming pills containing Dinitrophenol (DNP), a highly toxic substance marketed for its “fat burning” properties. This product has been linked to over 60 deaths worldwide.
Ms McGuinness said the awareness campaign needs to highlight a new obligatory logo effective from July 1st that will appear on legally operating websites and retailers to give people guarantees of the legitimacy of non-prescription products purchased on line.
“This logo or mark is exclusive to the websites of legally operating online pharmacies and approved retailers within the EU,” she said.
The national flag of the member state and the text are an integral part of the logo. Only national flags of an EU Member State, as well as those of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein can be displayed. “A logo that displays the EU flag alone, for example, is not authentic.”
By clicking on the logo people will be linked to the website of the national regulatory authority, which in Ireland is The National Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (http://thepsi.ie)
Ms McGuinness said that medicines bought from unregistered sources carry a far greater risk of being falsified. “These medicines may not have passed through the usual rigorous evaluation processes that ensure a medicine is fit for the EU market,” she said.
And she said such medicines can contain ingredients of low quality or in the wrong doses, can be deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with regard to identity or source or have fake packaging, wrong ingredients, or low levels of active ingredients. “As a result, these medicines may not work or they may be extremely harmful.”
Other serious consequences are that patients may not be correctly treated or treatment may fail and patients may experience unexpected or severe side effects. There may also be a dangerous interaction with medicines the patient is already taking.
Ms McGuinness said other steps being taken by the EU to tackle the problem include barcodes being printed on or attached to every single pack of medicines subject to prescription and other medicines at risk of being falsified. And new responsibilities have also been introduced for wholesalers and brokers.
However, she warned that the purchase of prescription medicines on line is illegal and highly dangerous. “I’m shocked by the number of global websites offering all sorts of antibiotics and prescription only products to unsuspecting citizens. This is highly dangerous and illegal,” she said.
In June of this year, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) with the Revenue Customs and Garda Siochana joined forces as part of an international operation to target online selling of falsified medicines. In Ireland over €430,000 worth of tablets and capsules were seized, including sedatives, steroids, weight loss pills etc., coming mainly from Singapore, USA, India and the UK.
“The advice should be to only ever buy from registered online pharmacies,” Ms McGuinness said. “Do not put your health at risk by taking a chance on what looks like a regular website offering medicinal products, too often these sites are selling falsified medicines,” she warned.