Organised criminal gangs are diverting drugs from the NHS supply chain and selling them on the black market in an illegal racket estimated to be worth up to £200m, according to the UK’s drug safety watchdog.
An established criminal network of wholesalers and a small number of registered pharmacies are involved, targeting prescription-only medicines such as benzodiazepines and other hypnotic/anxiolytics, according to the results of an investigation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
It estimates that between 2013 and 2016 between £115–£200m worth of drugs were taken out of the NHS supply chain and sold illegally through websites. The MHRA has warned the public about the potential safety risks of buying outside the legal supply chain and to be alert.
The MHRA said it had expanded its operations to 19 active investigations during 2017 to tackle this threat, and as a result more than 40 arrests have been made.
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has suspended five pharmacists following the investigations.
Details of the organised crime were broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme “A Deadly Prescription” on 30 January 2018.
Source: Courtesy of MHRA
Alastair Jeffrey, MHRA’s head of enforcement, said: “Selling medicines outside of the regulated supply chain is a serious criminal offence. The medicines being sold are potent and should only be taken under medical supervision. Criminals involved are exploiting people when they are at their most vulnerable; their only objective is to make money.”
The professional regulator revealed that it has already suspended five pharmacists under its interim orders and is reviewing whether it needs to take further action to protect the public.
The General Pharmaceutical Council’s chief executive Duncan Rudkin said it was working very closely with the MHRA with its ongoing investigation and added: “We would also strongly urge people not to take any prescription medicines unless they have a valid prescription, as they could be putting their health at serious risk.”
The organised racket was “wholeheartedly” condemned by the president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Ash Soni who said: “The scale and seriousness of these allegations are truly shocking.
“Any deliberate practice that could cause patient harm must be dealt with robustly and we would like to see this matter investigated as swiftly as possible by the relevant authorities.”