Comment: let’s not worry about fake online drugs

Screenshot of Google search results for 'buy viagra'Comment on article: “Let’s Not Worry About Fake Online Drugs

This interesting article by Felix Salmon deals with a research paper entitled “In Whom We Trust: The Role of Certification Agencies in Online Drug Markets”.

Research carried out in the US by Roger Bate, Ginger Zhe Jin and Aparna Mathur, and published in March 2012 concluded that, apart from Viagra bought from completely unregulated overseas websites, other medicines bought online were likely to be 100% genuine.

Researchers tested the authenticity of 370 samples bought from 41 online pharmacies, both regulated and unregulated, and found that they were all genuine, except for Viagra bought from a minority of completely unregulated overseas sites.

In view of the level of adverse publicity online pharmacies receive, the conclusion is striking. There are vested interests involved in discouraging a free market in prescription medicines. It is against the interests of drug companies and established pharmacies for national controls, including price controls, to be circumvented. Regulation does not only uphold standards, it upholds profits.

US and UK regulators, the FDA and the MHRA, quite rightly warn of the risk of obtaining medicines from unregulated websites. This message is sometimes co-sponsored by drug companies and repeated by TV celebrity doctors. The public fails to receive the message that regulated online pharmacies and online clinics almost never supply fake medicine. Online clinics in the UK are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The US study found that unregulated sites provided medicine at more than 50% lower prices.

The study does not deal with the risk of obtaining medicine online which is not suitable for the person who buys it, not because the medicine is fake, but because checking for contraindications and interactions has not be carried out and advice on the safe use of the medicine has not been given.

A major risk of obtaining prescription medicine from completely unregulated websites is the lack of information and medical checking these sites provide and the tendency of a sub-group of people to self medicate in dangerous ways. Prescription medicines are licenced for supply on a doctor’s prescription for a reason. Most are toxic or dangerous if given to the wrong person in the wrong situation.

If a person already has a prescription, or they get an online prescription from a regulated clinic, then the medicine supplied online is unlikely to be a fake and money is likely to be saved.

The article quotes from the study:

Buying drugs online from overseas isn’t for everyone. It should remain a limited option for desperate cash buyers — sick people with limited resources and insurance coverage — not a way for well-insured patients to reduce their co-pay. American health insurance companies should not be required to reimburse consumers for these drugs, because that would effectively import foreign governments’ price controls into the United States and undermine American companies’ research and development budgets.

Roger Bate also contributed an Op-Ed to the New York TimesThe wrong way to stop fake drugs”.

Views on the desirability or otherwise of undermining US price controls vary.

The BBC reported in June 2021 “Thousands of fake online pharmacies shut down“, a global operation to remove illicit sites selling drugs. In the UK there were 43 websites closed down. Dr Fox is a regulated site with the MHRA and GPhC.

Note: Dr Fox abides by FDA regulation and does not supply medicine to the US.