Internet sales of prescription drugs investigated

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 14 September 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:645

The Medicines Control Agency is investigating a company selling prescription only drugs on the Internet, with a view to a possible prosecution under the Medicines Act 1968. Quality Health Inc, based in the Turks and Caicos islands, is offering 14 prescription only drugs by mail order, including melatonin, tryptophan, vasopressin spray, and tretinoin. The act makes it an offence to sell prescription only medicines directly to the public.

The government's drug watchdog is looking into whether the company, which lists a London W1 contact address and a UK email address for sales on its Internet page, has a presence in Britain, which is a prerequisite for a prosecution.

Quality Health did not take up the BMJ's invitation to comment, but a spokesman told the Daily Telegraph last week: “Under a section of the act, private persons can import drugs for their own use. We believe we are acting ethically. We would not wish to contravene the law.”

But a Department of Health spokesman said: “There is a difference between a private person going abroad and bringing back medicines and an organisation selling them in this country.”

Internet sellers operating from abroad and supplying goods by mail order from overseas could escape the ban entirely. The British authorities have already admitted they are powerless to prevent dubious health claims for products on the Internet (17 August, p 381). There are a growing number of dubious health claims on the Internet for such substances as shark cartilage, asparagus extract, and pleurisy root lung formula.—CLARE DYER, legal correspondent, BMJ

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