One in 20 say they buy medicines online

Survey shows that 5% of the population buys medicines online, with 6% of the latter reporting negative side-effects

Five per cent of the population are buying medicines online, according to a survey based on a questionnaire answered by 917 respondents from the public. 

The survey shows that six per cent of those using online medicines (three out of 47) reported negative side effects while five of 31 doctors interviewed in the study claimed that their patients suffered from side effects after buying medicines online.

The results of the study have been published in the journal of Euro-Med Pharmacy published by the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery and the Malta Pharmaceutical Association in an article written by Elaine Gatt Baldacchino and Maurice Zarb Adami, who conducted the survey.

Only 19.6% felt that buying medicines over the internet was as safe as buying medicines from brick and mortar pharmacies. 

Thirty of the 47 participants who ordered medicines online claimed that they ordered medicines from internet pharmacies in the EU, while six participants used online pharmacies outside the EU. Ten participants did not even know the country of origin of the online pharmacy. Eighteen of the participants carried out checks to verify if the internet pharmacy was authentic. 

Two reasons why the public purchased medicines online were the lower cost and lack of availability of the medicines locally. Three respondents suffered from side effects following the use of medication purchased online. 

The study also refers to a study among 80 pharmacists working in retail pharmacies and 31 doctors.

Although the majority of the participating doctors and pharmacists (52.5%) were in favour of the use of internet pharmacies if the source was reliable, many expressed their lack of trust for these sites and fears regarding safety in using the medicines. 

Forty-two of the 80 pharmacists were in favour of patients using internet pharmacies if the source was reliable. 

The main concerns among pharmacists was the quality of the medicines originating from online pharmacies. Medicines being sold without a prescription were seen as the greatest risk to patients using internet pharmacies. 

Another risk mentioned by pharmacists is that the product is not passed through the required checks to ensure its quality, safety and efficacy and that underage people can order controlled substances and medicines which are expired, unsafe or counterfeit. 

Pharmacists rated as the least important concern the risk that the patient or healthcare system may suffer a financial burden due to the need of remedial care following treatment with medicines purchased over the internet. 

Fifty-nine responses to the questionnaire were also received from registered physicians practising in Malta. 

Thirty-one of these participants were in favour of using internet pharmacies if the source was reliable. The advantage of cheaper medicines purchased from internet pharmacies, availability issues of medicines locally and providing a wider choice of medicines to the patient were highlighted. 

One main concern expressed by doctors was the fear that advice from doctors and pharmacists would be ignored by patients. 

Five doctors reported giving advice to their patients following side effects experienced due to medicines purchased from online pharmacies. Thirty one doctors claimed that they never asked their patients whether they were using medications purchased online when prescribing. 

Six doctors knew of patients who were abusing illegal drugs purchased online. 

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