The British medical regulatory agency has concluded that it will be completely impossible to control the vast number of unlicensed pharmacies often illegally selling drugs online.
There has been a boom in the number of such online portals, as the demand for prescription drugs on the Internet has exploded.
And the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency suggests that the widespread online availability of antibiotics risks the creation of untreatable superbugs by fuelling antimicrobial resistance.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is an executive agency of the Department of Health in the United Kingdom, responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work and are acceptably safe.
And the organisation has already been forced to shutdown over 4,750 websites that were selling medicines without a license in the last 12 months alone.
But Lynda Scammell, senior policy advisor at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, believes that the vast number of such websites means that shutting this illegal practice down completely is utterly impossible.
“If you tap in some medicine you want to buy on Google, you are going to get millions and millions of hits. So obviously it would not be possible to monitor all of them,” she said. “It’s completely impossible to be on top of thousands and thousands [of sites]”.
Registering with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has been legally mandatory since July 2015, while a digital logo must also be displayed in online material.
The agency has attempted to crack down on misconduct, after reports suggested that many online pharmacies were putting patients at risk by issuing prescriptions without satisfactorily checking patient data.
Collaborating with the Care Quality Commission, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is leading an ongoing inspection in 243 online pharmacies registered to trade online, after two failed to meet regulatory expectations.
As a result, MD Direct and HR Healthcare have now lost their registered status.
Neal Patel of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society asserted that scrutiny of such sites should be considered essential, with the ethos of them often, inappropriately, akin to online shopping.
“We really need to conserve their use to make sure we only use them when we need to, so they can be as useful to us for as long as possible. Until we see standards that replicate what’s available to people face-to-face… we want to see those before [antibiotics] are available online”.
Researchers from Imperial College London examined 20 online pharmacies, and found that nearly half of them did not require any form of prescription in order to acquire antibiotics.
A spokesperson on behalf of the Care Quality Commission indicated that the watchdog takes online pharmacy safety extremely seriously.
“These providers are required to meet exactly the same standards as those who provide face-to-face GP consultations. We support digital innovation, it’s great that people have mobile phones and these companies are exploring alternative ways for people to get access to care and to drugs when it’s appropriate for them. But it has to be safe.”
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency was formed in 2003, following the merger of the Medicines Control Agency and the Medical Devices Agency.
In April 2013, it merged with the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control and was rebranded.
An article in Medscape in December 2016 estimated the online illegal pharmacy industry as being worth $431 billion.