Shopping with an online pharmacy offers multiple benefits. They offer a 24-hour service that is, for the most part, cheaper, simpler and more discreet than going direct to a high-street pharmacy or doctor. It’s not hard to see why they have risen so rapidly in prominence over the past decade. Unfortunately, as with every silver lining, there tends to be a cloud.
The risks of buying medicine online
The popularity of online pharmacies has brought with it the inevitable influx of scammers, attempting to sell fake (and dangerous) medicines to customers who don’t know any better. Drugs prescribed for problems like erectile dysfunction and weight loss are some of the most commonly counterfeited, sold cheaply to people who might feel embarrassed to go directly to the doctor or pharmacist. These people think they are getting a great deal when in reality they are not getting the genuine product at all. The drugs bought from sites like these can have very harmful repercussions.
Here are some more dangers of buying medicine from unregulated or illegal sites:
- Counterfeit medication might contain different active ingredients to those advertised, which could be harmful
- False medication could contain no active ingredient and therefore, not work
- Illegitimate medication may have the wrong combination or concentration of active ingredients, which could be harmful
- Untrustworthy medication is liable to have the wrong dosage. This increases the risk of you experiencing an adverse reaction or damaging side-effects
- Rogue online pharmacists may have purchased medication from manufacturers with little regard for patient safety
- Buying medication without a prescription increases the risk of you ordering drugs which may be addictive.
What are the signs of an unregulated online pharmacy?
There are lots of warning signs that will let you know if you’re looking at a rogue pharmacist, such as:
- You’re able to buy prescription medication without a consultation
- You are not given the option to speak to a registered pharmacist or healthcare professional
- There is no listing for certification, licensing, or regulatory details
- The prices on offer seem too good to be true
- There are deals for buying your medication in excessive bulk
- Spam and unsolicited emails are sent out from the domain offering low-cost medication
- Contact details are not listed on the website
- Offering to ship anywhere in the world
- Charging customs fees on the medication
- The company isn’t registered in the UK (you should find this in the footer of every web page on the website)
- You aren’t asked for any medical information prior to buying medication (the company should be asking you the same questions as your GP would)
- Prices are not listed on GBP (£)
- You can find little or no medical information on the company website
If you are unable to get complete satisfaction on all of those issues, then do not buy any medication from the website. If you do, you could be putting your health and life at serious risk.
A good rule of thumb is: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you receive an email out of the blue advertising cheap medicine, ‘miracle’ pills or some other grandiose claim, know that it is almost guaranteed to be fake. At best, these products will do nothing. At worst, they could cause serious harm.
Who regulates online pharmacies
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued a warning that it is “completely impossible” to control the amount of illegitimate online pharmacies.
However, there are a number of regulatory organisations you can look out for when trying to establish if a pharmacy is legit.
- Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
- General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) – this organisation holds a record of all pharmacies it has accredited
- Care Quality Commission (CQC) – this institution has its own register of internally accredited online pharmacies
If you can’t find any of these regulatory agencies on the pharmacy's website, you can also visit the General Pharmaceutical Council register.This has a record of both online and offline pharmacies that have been accredited by the GPhC.
Regulatory bodies exist to ensure that online pharmacies are operating within strict and legal bounds. For example, here at The Independent Pharmacy, we are strictly regulated by a number of UK health organisations, including the MHRA, GPhC and CQC. These institutions are independent and unbiased, providing regulation, monitoring and inspection to ensure that all of their listed suppliers meet (and continue to meet) the high standards required of healthcare professionals in the UK. We are committed to meet all regulation that is required for online pharmacies in the UK, as outlined by our CSR policy.
Here’s some more information on the regulatory bodies mentioned above
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is an executive agency responsible for regulating all medicines, devices and blood components for transfusion in the UK. Sponsored by the Department of Health, it is recognised as a global authority in its field. They ensure that we have the necessary legal and regulatory permissions to run a pharmacy website. They used to issue a verification badge (like the one below) to all certified online pharmacies and it was a legal requirement for this to be displayed on every web page that sells medicine. However, since Brexit the badge is no longer required in the UK as it was an EU initiative.
The General Pharmaceutical Council is an independent regulator of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and premises throughout the UK. Its mission is to uphold high standards and public trust in pharmacies, and the professionals that work in them, with a comprehensive register of approved vendors.
We are inspected by the GPhC on a regular basis to make sure we meet their comprehensive list of regulations required to run a safe and effective pharmacy in the UK. They also provide a Registered Pharmacy badge (see below) to be displayed on the website of all pharmacies that meet their standards to operate in the UK.
The Care Quality Commission independently monitors, inspects and regulates health and social care services, and includes ratings in all its evaluations. Its role reaches further than just pharmacies – extending to hospitals, dentists and clinics – but they are included in its remit.
We are inspected by the CQC to ensure that our Online Doctor service meets the high safety standards enforced in the UK to provide prescription medicines online.
Read the reviews
The public puts a lot of faith in the opinions expressed by other people, whether good or bad. Reviews are generally trusted because as a consumer you know that person doesn’t have a vested interest in promoting the company – what you read is what you get. An online chemist’s reviews can tell you an awful lot about the experience of shopping with them, as well as the quality of care.
At The Independent Pharmacy, we’re proud to have thousands of glowing testimonials. We strive to provide an expert service that is quick, simple and honest – and this is reflected in what our customers repeatedly say about us. If you are ever questioning of a pharmaceutical website’s credentials, reading the customer reviews section is a great place to start. If there are no reviews to be seen, think twice before you buy. A real online chemist that offers a genuine service has no reason to hide customer feedback.
How to be sure
If you’re unsure about whether a website is legitimate, a good starting point is to check it out on the General Pharmaceutical Council register, which lists all of the pharmacies (both offline and online) that it has accredited. Search by registration number, trading name or postcode. If you are unable to find this information easily through the website in question, there is likely some suspicious activity going on.
The General Pharmaceutical Council also deals with customer concerns relating to pharmaceutical misdealings – see their raising concerns section if you need to report anything potentially dubious. You can also check the World Health Organization website for a full list of legitimate medical authorities worldwide.
Remember, a reputable online pharmacy will always:
- Display all the required regulatory badges (such as MHRA & GPhC, see above)
- Tell the total price you will pay up-front
- Require thorough medical questions and history to be answered before they provide medicines
- Have clear contact information displayed
- Give you the option to speak to a pharmacist by telephone
- Dispense your medicines exactly as they would be from your high-street chemist including labelled instructions from the doctor
- Provide medicines from reputable manufacturers that have a clear batch number and expiry date.
You can double check how to spot a legitimate online pharmacy by using our guide to buying medicine safely online.
Our priority is to ensure that our customers are happy and informed about the services they’re getting. If you have a question relating to any of the information above, you can contact our support team. We look forward to hearing from you.