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Saturday, 27 May, 2000, 00:57 GMT 01:57 UK
Crackdown on internet prescriptions
Laptop computer
Internet prescriptions becoming increasingly common
Authorities in the US are cracking down on illegal internet prescriptions - but the UK government has been accused of "naivety" for failing to do likewise.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said there have now been 43 arrests and 22 criminal convictions for selling medicines without a valid prescription over the internet.

I believe that the noose is slowly tightening

William Hubbard, US Food and Drug Administration
But the Department of Health said the UK did not have the same history of mail order medicine sales, and online pharmacies were required to ensure a prescription had been issued for any drugs sold.

The British Medical Association's IT committee chairman Dr Paul Cundy said this showed the government was being "astoundingly naive".

William Hubbard, senior associate commissioner at the FDA, reporting to a congressional committee on the situation in the US, said: "I believe that the noose is slowly tightening around these domestic sites."

Illegal drugs

But congressmen raised concerns that more internet pharmacies were opening up and Virginia Republican Thomas Bliley claimed all the arrests and convictions had been for the sale of illegal drugs, not prescription medicines.

Mr Hubbard said the problem facing authorities was dealing with foreign online drugstores and he called for a licensing system for internet pharmacies.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "In the UK, online pharmacies are still required to have a prescription presented to them."

The whole point of internet mail order drugs is it breaks geographical boundaries

Dr Paul Cundy, BMA
She added that online sales in the UK were primarily limited to private prescriptions, rather than NHS ones, and said that while mail order pharmacies were "widespread" in the US, "that is not the case here".

But Dr Cundy said: "That is an astoundingly naive view to take. The whole point of internet mail order drugs is it breaks geographical boundaries.

"They have just failed to grasp the fundamental issue."

He added: "People should be warned of the dangers of getting drugs over the internet by mail order and how inappropriate it is."

The government should also look at the legal position in relation to ISPs carrying websites selling drugs, he said.

He had, for instance, found one website selling Viagra and other drugs from a furnishing firm's premises in the north of England.

The Department of Health spokeswoman added that the Medicines Control Agency was looking at the problem, and anyone supplying drugs from the UK to the US without a prescription would be prosecuted.

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07 Dec 99 | Health
The future of 'e-medicine'
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