UN report warns of risks with some internet pharmacies
March 8, 2007

The United Nation's International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) warns that unregulated internet pharmacies are posing a high risk to patients.

The report states that properly regulated internet pharmacies serve a 'useful purpose', but expresses serious concerns over unregulated pharmacies supplying drugs illegally. According to a survey undertaken by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, New York, only 3% of internet pharmacies studied would request to speak with the patients' doctors and 8% said they would accept faxed prescriptions, whereas 84% would freely sell benzodiazepines and 68% would freely sell opiates. The report also warns of the possibility that products supplied in this way may be 'counterfeit or of substandard quality', and that 'the buyer's privacy or the security of the buyer's credit card or medical data may be 'compromised'.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 25-50 per cent of medicines consumed in developing countries are believed to be counterfeit. The problem is further compounded by the fact that counterfeit drugs are easy to manufacture - they can resemble genuine drugs in packaging, and labeling. Unknowing clients have experienced serious health or even lethal consequences; for instance, in Africa, the use of counterfeit vaccines in 1995 resulted in 2,500 deaths. Narcotics, benzodiazepines, amphetamines and other internationally controlled drugs are easily available in street markets in several developing countries. In developed countries, these drugs are sold via illegal Internet pharmacies, without the mandatory prescriptions.

"The problem of counterfeit medication and abuse of pharmaceuticals containing controlled substances bought without prescriptions, has been in existence for some time. However, the rapid expansion of unregulated markets has dramatically worsened the situation," said INCB President Dr. Philip O. Emafo.

The unregulated market broadly covers two scenarios: unlicensed individuals and/or entities conducting illegal trade of pharmaceutical products containing controlled substances - for instance, a street vendor selling a controlled drug, such as a narcotic drug, a stimulant or a sedative in a village fair; and, licensed individuals and/or entities contravening laws to sell controlled drugs, such as a pharmacist who sells controlled drugs without asking for a prescription.