Do online pharmacies make it easy to buy many prescription drugs?

The Sunday Mirror has carried out a damning investigation, which condemns British internet pharmacies

A damning probe by the Sunday Mirror has exposed online ­pharmacies who dish out antibiotics and other pills with scant checks.

It took just 60 seconds to get one prescription approved, three minutes for another and the Sunday Mirror team was even able to get multiple batches of pills because there was no apparent cross-checking between sites.

The Sunday Mirror team easily bought five types of prescription-only antibiotics – plus slimming and sleeping pills – available from ­”Superdrug Online Doctor”, “Lloyds Pharmacy”, “The Online Clinic”, “Medical Specialists”, and other British internet chemists with just a few clicks of a mouse.

2017 Study Abstract

Improved antibiotic stewardship (AS) and reduced prescribing in primary care, with a parallel increase in personal internet use, could lead citizens to obtain antibiotics from alternative sources online.

A cross-sectional analysis was performed to:

  • determine the quality and legality of online pharmacies selling antibiotics to the UK public;
  • describe processes for obtaining antibiotics online from within the UK;
  • and identify resulting AS and patient safety issues.

Searches were conducted for ‘buy antibiotics online’ using Google and Yahoo. For each search engine, data from the first 10 web sites with unique URL addresses were reviewed. Analysis was conducted on evidence of appropriate pharmacy registration, prescription requirement, whether antibiotic choice was ‘prescriber-driven’ or ‘consumer-driven’, and whether specific information was required (allergies, comorbidities, pregnancy) or given (adverse effects) prior to purchase.

Twenty unique URL addresses were analysed in detail. Online pharmacies evidencing their location in the UK (n = 5; 25%) required a prescription before antibiotic purchase, and were appropriately registered. Online pharmacies unclear about the location they were operating from (n = 10; 50%) had variable prescription requirements, and no evidence of appropriate registration. Nine (45%) online pharmacies did not require a prescription prior to purchase. For 16 (80%) online pharmacies, decisions were initially consumer-driven for antibiotic choice, dose and quantity.

Wide variation exists among online pharmacies in relation to antibiotic practices, highlighting considerable patient safety and AS issues. Improved education, legislation, regulation and new best practice stewardship guidelines are urgently needed for online antibiotic suppliers.

  • Read Obtaining antibiotics online from within the UK: a cross-sectional study, academic.oup,, 17 February 2017.
  • Read The scandal of the online pills trade which is threatening everyone’s safety, The Mirror, 11 FEB 2017. Image credit rxstars.

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