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Warning about ordering medicines on the internet


Thursday 25 February 2010 2:57pm

MedicationIt is becoming increasingly common for people to purchase prescription medicines through the internet, but this can be dangerous, according to University of Otago academics Dr Clare Strachan and Professor Pauline Norris.

Their comments follow an analysis of samples of medicines by a team of fourth-year pharmacy students from the University of Otago and staff and students from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Auckland. The medicines had been intercepted at the New Zealand border by Medsafe border control staff.

The students analysed the contents of two of the most commonly purchased medicines on the internet, including tadalafil (for erectile dysfunction) and sibutramine (for weight loss). They found some tablets were misshapen and others were mouldy.

“What was particularly concerning was that some tablets which looked acceptable and genuine were counterfeit and contained only 40 per cent of the stated amount of active ingredient,” says Dr Strachan.

People who order medicines over the internet often do not realise the risks involved, say Dr Strachan and Professor Norris.

“The medicines may be manufactured in dirty conditions where there is little or no quality control. They may contain more, or less, than the amount of medicine stated on the label or, in some cases, may contain a completely different medicine to that stated on the label.

“Other dangers include possible contamination with bacteria, mould, or other foreign matter such as brick dust, arsenic or lead,” says Dr Stachan.

If problems are found with medicines purchased on the internet, it is often impossible to tell who the supplier is or even the country they are located in, she says.

“When medicines are purchased over the internet, there is no guarantee of safety, quality or efficacy. Websites can claim to be located in one country however medicines are usually supplied from another.

“This lack of accountability means that suppliers of medicines ordered over the internet cannot be held responsible for any harm they may cause to patients.”

By contrast, medicines purchased from pharmacies in New Zealand have been assessed for safety, quality and efficacy by Medsafe, says Dr Strachan.

Notes to reporters:

The fourth-year students from the University of Otago are Coran Turner, Gerard Casey, and Stacey Pigou.

The analysis was performed in collaboration with researchers Professor Sanjay Garg and Raida Al Kassas at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Auckland. Students at the Auckland School of Pharmacy found that medicines containing sildenafil (for erectile dysfunction) and finasteride (for hair loss) also suffered quality problems.


Dr Clare Strachan
School of Pharmacy
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 7324

Professor Pauline Norris
Professor of Social Pharmacy
School of Pharmacy
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 7359

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