Healthcare: On the Agenda - Prescription-less drugs on internet

- In a nutshell

Websites are selling prescription-only painkillers to UK customers without asking for a prescription, a new study has found. A team at Edinburgh University found that out of 100 websites 35 were offering strong painkillers.

- What else did they find?

Seventy-six per cent of the websites selling painkillers did not require the customer to provide a valid prescription. Six asked for a prescription but accepted a fax or email copy, which the researchers said could be forged or modified.

- Why is this a problem?

Some of the drugs have severe side-effects and some should not be taken with other medicines.

- What is being done?

In January this year, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain launched its internet pharmacy logo, which is aimed at reassuring consumers that they are ordering from reputable pharmacy sites.

- Media coverage

The results were initially picked up by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Further coverage appeared on the BBC Health website and the story was given in-depth coverage on BBC Radio Four and Scottish TV.

- Who handled the PR support?

The story was promoted by Edinburgh University's in-house comms team for its College of Medicine and Vetinary Medicine. A university spokeswoman said: 'The study's focus on painkillers rather than being about drugs generally will have helped it achieve standout.'

76% - Sites that don't ask to see painkiller prescriptions

2.25 - Million people buy online prescription medicines

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