Clicking for pills

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39063.418391.68 (Published 04 January 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:14
  1. Graham Easton, general practitioner and journalist
  1. 1Ealing, London
  1. Gp.easton{at}virgin.net

    With more and more people buying prescription only drugs over the internet, how can doctors help to protect their patients from the risks of internet pharmacy? Graham Easton investigates

    There's something shady about buying medicines over the internet—pushy emails offering budget Viagra and a bigger penis, or hairless men doing faceless deals for baldness drugs. If you're after cut price, stigmatised, or unauthorised medicines, cyberspace is the place. And just like a drug deal in a dark alley, it's a risky business. Who are you dealing with? Exactly what are you buying? If anything goes wrong, have you got a leg to stand on? But such easy access also has obvious benefits, which is why more and more people are willing to take the risk and internet pharmacy is growing fast. So what should doctors know about this new online market, and how can we protect our patients from the possible pitfalls?

    The first point to make is that not all internet pharmacy sites are dodgy. Legitimate online pharmacies are regulated in the same way as high street pharmacies—pharmacists and pharmacy premises in Great Britain have to be registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society—and they can offer easy (often cheaper) access to safe medicines from the privacy of your home. It's really no different to doing your supermarket shop over the internet. Most offer just a dispensing service, and you still need a doctor's prescription for prescription-only medicines. This sort of online dispensing is bound to blossom as electronic prescribing becomes the norm. Some sites also offer a prescribing service, where private online doctors prescribe and dispense medicines after some sort of virtual consultation or questionnaire.

    Risky sites

    The trouble is that there are plenty of other sites that aren't playing by the rules. According to Lynsey Balmer, head of professional ethics …

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