The rising tide of falsified medicines – a major public health threat

Monday, 17 December 2018

The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy (ASOP EU) is on a mission to create and promote an environment that enables patients to safely buy their medicines online in a space permitted by law. Mike Isles, Executive Director ASOP EU explores this further.

The manufacture and distribution of fake medicines is an enormous and growing public health risk with an untold cost to lives. Vast profits are made by organized criminal gangs who will use the proceeds to support other criminal activities. 

Some startling facts:

  • Up to a third of the world’s prescription medicines  are substandard or falsified, and two-thirds in some developing countries
  • Worth $200 billion a year, the market now eclipses almost everything else in the underground economy
  • 35,000 websites are aimed at the world wide public at any given moment and 96% are operating illegally
  •  20 new websites selling prescription medicines are launched every day
  •  89% of illegal online pharmacies don’t require a prescription for a prescription medicine

Evidence shows that consumers and patients are becoming increasingly reliant on, and trusting of, the Internet, which also provides the channel to buy illegally distributed fake medicines, in the majority of cases by an unaware public.
As shown in a recent ASOP EU research study, up to 65% of people going online to buy a medicine do so without prior knowledge of the fact that 96% of websites selling medicines are operating illegally. 

This market is a global one with the Internet allowing a rapid and seamless buying of medicines and so Education is a key success factor in solving this patient safety problem because there are up to 35,000 illegally operating websites that target consumers and patients across Europe and the world. Fake medicines may have too much, too little or a different active ingredient, may contain poisons, paint thinners and other potential harmful or deadly ingredients. They can also be made in unsanitary or non-sterile environments with unsafe conditions.

To raise public awareness ASOP EU is running a campaign in 5 European countries which contains very useful information to help inform the public about the phenomenon of fake medicines.

A 34 country wide initiative involving the youth and under the umbrella of Youth Internet Governance Movement will now include educational activities around fake medicines designed to educate the youth of today about falsified medicines was being developed. 
Delivering training and capacity building to young people and engaging with them to promote their active participation will mean that young people who are active on the Internet can learn about online patient safety and disseminate this through their social media networks.

Patients and consumers alike need to understand how to buy medicines safely from the Internet. By following some useful rules will help ensure this happens. 

  • Do not buy from an online pharmacy that…
  • Does not have a licensed pharmacist or physical address and a telephone number that works
  • Offers “bulk discounts” or “amazing results”
  • Does NOT REQUIRE a valid prescription for prescription medicines – this immediately tell you that it is operating illegally
  • In Europe if it does not include the common logo on the website which looks like this with your country flag the BEWARE! 


Click here to download a leaflet on how to buy safely on the Internet 

For further information, please go to the ASOP Global website