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Counterfeit medicines

Buying medicines online from unverified websites could mean you are putting your health at genuine risk.

Counterfeit medicines are a problem which continues to grow. Counterfeit versions of at least 75 Pfizer medicines have been detected in at least 107 countries to date. Over the last decade, we have helped to prevent more than 171 million doses of counterfeit Pfizer medicines from reaching patients.  

The harsh reality is that unlicensed or fake medicines, easily accessible online, can contain harmful ingredients such as arsenic. They are often produced by people with no appropriate qualifications and can contain no pharmaceutical ingredients at all. Some fake medicines can contain totally different ingredients to the labelled active ingredients, some of which may interact with other medications, exacerbate other ailments or simply be toxic. Buying prescription-only medicines without a prescription has frightening consequences of which we want to make the public aware. Fake medicines can cause harm to patients, which can sometimes lead to death.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the government body responsible for regulating all medicines and medical devices in the UK by ensuring they work and are acceptably safe. It revealed that between 2006 and 2012 it had seized more than £34 million worth of medicine supplied illegally.  

Research conducted by Pfizer and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in 2012 also showed the scale of the problem. The survey found:

  • 85% of pharmacists believed purchasing prescription-only medicines from illicit online sources is a risk to people’s health and potentially their lives.
  • 50% of pharmacists had come across customers who admitted to having obtained prescription-only medicines through illicit online sources.
  • 73% of pharmacists suspected that over recent years, there has been a rise in the number of people obtaining prescription-only medicine online via illicit websites without a prescription.

Over half of pharmacists (56%) believed that people purchase prescription-only medicine without a prescription from unregulated online sources because they were too embarrassed to visit a GP or because they felt they can get hold of medication quicker if they bypassed the legitimate healthcare system. 


DCOM0005/March 2015