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Warning sounded on internet drugs

No one can be sure of what's inside

(Keystone)

Buying medication on the web can seriously damage your health, according to the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products, Swissmedic.

The agency warned that drugs purchased on the internet were often counterfeit and contained the wrong dosage.

Up to 40,000 packages of medicine ordered online arrive in Switzerland every year, according to Swissmedic’s head of medical products, Paul Dietschy.

He said that many contain sleeping pills and anti-depressants.

“We are [also] warning people about information available on the web concerning medicine and medical products,” Dietschy told swissinfo.

“Most of the medical information you find on hundreds of thousands of websites is inaccurate.”

Internet roulette

In Switzerland, pharmacies must possess government authorisation to operate, and can deliver drugs only on prescription.

“This guarantees that a doctor has seen you and prepared a diagnosis,” said Dietschy.

But illegal internet pharmacies do not require a doctor’s prescription and simply offer online or over-the-phone consultations with the customer.

According to Swissmedic, every second medication ordered on the web is a counterfeit version of legitimate drugs.

The agency added that packages of medicine seized at the border are regularly found to contain inadequate or even false information.

Details about dosage may be incorrect, while information leaflets about the drugs concerned are often missing.

New guidelines

At a press conference on Thursday, the agency said it was issuing new guidelines to help raise public awareness about the dangers of surfing the web for cut-price medication.

Swissmedic adds that prescription and non-prescription drugs purchased on the internet may not even be any cheaper than those available in Swiss pharmacies.

“We always say that you should go to your doctor or your pharmacist if you have a problem, because it is difficult to judge if the information and medicine [available on the web] are suitable for you,” said Swissmedic spokeswoman Monique Helfer.

Similar advice is also being issued in other countries, including the United States and Britain, where a 24-year-old man killed himself in June 2003 after reportedly taking a cocktail of anti-depressants bought online.

Tip of iceberg

Officials say that up to 8,000 of the 40,000 packages of medicine which are estimated to arrive in Switzerland each year contain banned narcotic drugs or psychotropic medication.

But Dietschy warns that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

“That’s just a small part of what we have coming in,” he said.

Swissmedic hopes the new guidelines will help make people think twice before they log on to the internet to purchase medication.

“We cannot stop people from engaging in risky behaviour, but we can try to inform them and advise them to be careful.”

swissinfo, Elizabeth Meen

In brief

Swissmedic warns that ordering medication online can be dangerous, since there are no guarantees that the products contain proper dosages and have not been tampered with.

The agency says every second drug ordered on the web is a counterfeit copy and has issued guidelines to help raise awareness about the risks of buying medicine online.

end of infobox

Key facts

The World Health Organization estimates that the trade in fake medicine is worth $32 billion (SFr40 billion).
Swissmedic estimates that 20,000 to 40,000 packages of medication bought online arrive in Switzerland every year.
Between 4,000 and 8,000 of these packages contain banned narcotics or psychotropic medication.

end of infobox


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