Antibiotics are illegally available without prescription on 45 per cent of online pharmacy websites surveyed, scientists have found.
The researchers from Imperial College London analysed 20 pharmacies that were available for UK citizens to access online. This is one of the few studies to have examined the online availability of antibiotics and to have explored the potential effects on public health. The research is published in Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.
Antibiotics are classed as prescription only medicines in the UK, meaning they cannot legally be sold to consumers without a valid prescription. In the study, the researchers found that although online versions of UK high street pharmacies were compliant with prescription regulations, 80 per cent of the online pharmacies surveyed let customers choose their dosages, the duration and choice of antibiotic treatments. This can lead to serious side effects in patients and increases the risk of antimicrobial resistance.
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Antimicrobial resistance is one the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The study was carried out by academics from Imperial College London’s NIHR Health Protection Research Unit for Healthcare Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance, and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
The team carried out their research by entering the search term ‘buy antibiotics online’ into Google and Yahoo. The team recognise that the study is a ‘snapshot’ of the online pharmacy industry, but it does provide insights into how it operates. The 20 pharmacies at the top of the search were analysed by the team.
Dr Sara Boyd, a co-author and NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Imperial, said: “These findings are a real concern, and raise several important issues regarding antibiotic resistance and patient safety with online pharmacies.”