Risks of drugs sold online highlighted

Mon, Mar 14, 2011, 00:00

THE VAST majority of internet-bought drugs uncovered in Ireland – about €2 million worth of which was seized last year alone – do not come from facilities that have been regulated and inspected to EU safety and quality standards.

A total of 5,757 medical seizures was made by Revenue in 2010, representing almost 80 per cent of drug seizures made by customs officers last year. Of this figure 5,641 seizures were of illicit medicines intercepted in the post and seized.

While the figure is down slightly on 2009, when 5,833 medicinal seizures were made worth €2.08 million, the number of tablets intercepted rose from almost 711,000 in 2009 to over 1.3 million last year.

In 2008, there were 3,946 seizures of illicit medicines which were intercepted in the post, with a value of €1.1 million.

The Irish Medicines Board has warned people never to purchase a medicine over the internet, especially not prescription-only drugs.

“Most of the medicines consigned by internet pharmacies to Irish customers and detained by the IMB and Customs do not come from facilities that have been regulated and inspected to EU safety and quality standards,” a spokeswoman for the IMB said.

“No counterfeit medicine, no matter how well presented or promoted, can be said to be good,” she said, adding customers had no way of knowing what these medicines really contained. Even if they contained the active ingredient listed on the package, they were frequently made in premises that were unsuitable or insufficiently hygienic for manufacturing a product for human consumption.

The majority of seized drugs fall into four categories: anti-anxiety pills and sedatives; insomnia medication; medicines used in the treatment of erectile dysfunctions; and slimming tablets.

There have recently been a number of successful prosecutions by the IMB in Athy and Dublin.

Fang “Susan” Huang appeared at the Dublin District Court on January 10th, 2011, and pleaded guilty to 10 charges in relation to prescription-only medicinal products imported from China, and sale without a prescription, not having a marketing authorisation for and supplying prescription-only medicinal products only in the Chinese language. The medicinal products included an abortifacient drug, Mifepristone. She was found guilty of the charges and fined €5,000 or 30 days’ imprisonment in default.

Meanwhile Mojisola Olubukola Soleye appeared at the Athy District Court on January 11th, 2011, for sentencing in relation to importing from Nigeria and sale in her shop, Bimtom Ventures, of prescription-only medicinal products.

Last year a joint operation between the IMB and gardaí led to the seizure of 262,000 tablets and capsules with an estimated value of €500,000. The Interpol co-ordinated international internet week of action involved international organisations from more than 45 countries targeting online sales of counterfeit and illegal medicines.

The IMB’s enforcement section initiated 3,729 enforcement cases involving breaches of medicinal product legislation in 2009, the vast majority of which related to mail order importations of prescription-only medicinal products.

There are a number of ongoing IMB investigations into the suppliers of prescription-only medicinal products by internet supply outlets.