The potentially fatal gamble with illicit drugs available on the internet

Recent seizure underlines the scale of the problem and product mix that confirms the considerable risk to consumers

 

The death of a young man following the suspected consumption of a chemical substance bought online is a salutary reminder of the deadly risks of buying medication on the internet. The victim is believed to have consumed dinitrophenol (DNP), which is marketed as a slimming pill. Worldwide DNP has been linked to 60 deaths among body builders and people with eating disorders attempting to rapidly lose weight.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) warns products containing DNP are unfit for human consumption. DNP works by winding up the body’s metabolism, resulting in excess energy being released into cells in the form of heat. Symptoms of acute toxicity include hyperthermia, rapid pulse, sweating, increased respiratory rate and cardiac arrest. Damage to the liver, kidneys and the nervous system may also occur.

At least 50 per cent of prescription medicines bought over the internet are counterfeit, the HPRA warns. Earlier this month, illegal prescription medicines worth €430,000 were seized in the Republic, over 142,000 tablets and capsules taken as part of Operation Pangea VIII, an international action to target crime networks behind online sale of counterfeit medicines.

While a majority of medicines seized were sedatives, they also included anabolic steroids, and medicines for erectile dysfunction and weight loss. Criminals who manufacture illicit pharmaceuticals have no regard for people’s health.

Laboratory analysis of online products show some are poisonous. Others contain medication known to cause heart attack and stroke. Apart from these dangerous side-effects, the purchaser may not be getting the prescribed medicine in the correct dosage. Some drugs sold online are out-of date. Many are not safe to be prescribed with other medications. Incorrect drug labelling also puts patients at risk. The scale of illicit internet sales is daunting and requires great vigilance by state authorities. For consumers, HPRA chief executive Pat O’Mahony advises: “never use the internet to source slimming products or any prescription medicines at any time.”

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