Background: Evidence suggests that consumers
potentially put themselves at risk when purchasing medicines on-line. Whilst
logos provided by regulators may provide some level of reassurance there may
be other indicators which could be used by consumers to identify those
websites which may be safely used.
Objectives: Identify characteristics of
on-line pharmacies which are related to whether websites are regulated or
non-regulated and those characteristics which could be used by patients to
increase the likelihood of accessing regulated sites.
Setting: Online pharmacies which supply
diazepam, fluoxetine and simvastatin.
Methods: Using piloted search terms via
Google and Yahoo search engines, identified websites were screened for
regulatory status, adherence to regulatory standards, administrative
requirements, clinical assessment requirements and additional details deemed
to be of relevance to a user. Characteristics of regulated and non-regulated
(defined as those with an absence of a correctly linked regulatory logo)
websites were compared to identify differences which could be used to improve
Main outcome measure: Regulatory status,
adherence to regulatory standards, quality of information provision, barriers
to medicines access.
Results: 113 websites sold diazepam,
fluoxetine and simvastatin; were identified within the first 100 results.
Less than quarter were found to be regulated online pharmacies. 80 websites
were willing to sell the medication without a prescription. The unregulated
internet pharmacy websites (defined as those with an absence of a correctly
linked regulatory logo) were found to adhere more closely to the clinical
criteria, were less significantly likely to disclose a contact name and
address, telephone number of the pharmacy or demand a prescription prior to
sale (p<0.05, Fisher’s Exact).
Conclusions: The three
prescription-only medicines which are liable to abuse, have potentially
serious interactions and require counselling to ensure patient safety are
readily available via the internet. When purchasing medicines via this route,
UK consumers should be made aware of the importance of regulatory logos and
additionally should ensure that the seller can be meaningfully contacted by
the contact details provided. The provision of clinical information should
not be used alone as an indication of the seller’s provenance.