Illegal import of medicines reduced but major risk remain

by Alex Greaney
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Alex Greaney

Figures released as Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) launches campaign to increase awareness of dangers of buying prescription medicines online.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) stated last week that whilst the volume of detained illegal medicines in the first half of 2022 has fallen significantly compared to the same period in 2021, a substantial amount of product is still being sourced online which poses risks to people’s health. The HPRA enforcement section detained nearly half a million (486,088) dosage units of falsified and other illegal medicines between January and June 2022 (895,591 for the first half of 2021). Announcing its mid-year update of detention figures, the HPRA reminded the public of the health risks associated with prescription medicines purchased online from unauthorised sources.

In the first six months of 2022, the main categories of illegal products detained included sedatives (28%), anabolic steroids (12%), erectile dysfunction medicines (9%) and analgesics (7%).

Many people find medicines so expensive in Ireland that they will try to order their prescription drugs online from other countries, where they are cheaper or more readily available, for example in Spain. Also, many cannot afford the repeated doctor visits required to get prescriptions unfortunately, there are many risks with taking prescription drugs without the knowledge of a doctor, and when buying medicine online there are often no guarantees of what you are really getting.

Grainne Power, Director of Compliance with the HPRA, said: “Although the volume of detentions has decreased, we are still observing significant levels of potent, prescription medicines that are being illegally supplied into Ireland. These levels remain very concerning with so many people prepared to take a chance in ordering prescription medicines online. When you acquire medicines from unregulated sources, you simply have no idea what you are getting. This isn’t merely about people wasting money on falsified or counterfeit products, it is also about the very real dangers of significant side effects, of using a product without supervision where there is no guarantee of what it contains and of experiencing interactions with other medicines being taken. All of these risks have the potential to make your condition worse or cause serious harm to health.”

To highlight the health risks of sourcing prescription medicines online, the HPRA today announced the launch of a new multi-platform digital information campaign to warn the public of the issue. Incorporating both social media and display advertising, the campaign will target members of the general public and highlight to them the dangers presented when buying prescription medicines online. 

Ms Power outlined the role HPRA’s digital campaign can play in increasing public awareness and understanding of the safe supply routes for medicines and the associated dangers of buying prescription medicines online.

“Given the fact that so many transactions take place online, it is particularly important and appropriate to highlight those risks through online channels and, where possible, to influence the decision of the buyer prior to purchase. We hope our campaign will make people stop and think before they seek to purchase prescription medicines online and ultimately persuade them not to use this route.”

The HPRA works in close co-operation with colleagues from An Garda Síochána and Revenue’s Customs Service with whom there is significant inter-agency collaboration to combat the illegal supply of health products into and within Ireland. It also co-operates and shares intelligence with other regulatory and law enforcement agencies worldwide to prevent the illegal manufacture, importation and distribution of medicines, medical devices, and cosmetics.

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