RPS calls for investigation after online pharmacies prescribed opioids to undercover reporter

According to The Times, a reporter was able to buy opioids from five online pharmacies by filling in an online questionnaire and sending a photocopy of their passport.

Dihydrocodeine tablets

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has called for an urgent investigation to be carried out after five online pharmacies prescribed opioids to an undercover reporter for The Times without contacting the reporter’s GP.

According to The Times
, the reporter was able to buy the medicines — including 200 tablets of 30mg dihydrocodeine and 100 tablets of 30mg codeine — by filling in an online questionnaire and submitting a photograph of their passport. The reporter said that at no point did the reporter agree to their GP being contacted, and yet the medicines were still dispatched. 

The pharmacy that sold the 200 dihydrocodeine tablets also allowed the reporter to purchase a second batch the following day,  the report in The Times noted. 

Neal Patel, head of corporate communications at the RPS, said: “These findings are concerning, and I would expect a full and urgent investigation by regulators. In our view, an online consultation should meet the same standards as a face-to-face consultation.

“There are guidelines in place for pharmacies providing online pharmacy services, from the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), which have been updated in April 2019.”

The updated GPhC ‘Guidance for registered pharmacies providing pharmacy services at a distance, including on the internet’ says that any patient requesting opioids should be asked for details of their GP and for consent for the pharmacy to contact that GP.

The guidance also says that when medicines are liable to be abused or misused, online pharmacies should be assured that the prescriber has contacted the patient’s GP before issuing the prescription to check that the medicine is appropriate for the patient.

In September 2019, the GPhC announced that all online pharmacies who had asked to use its voluntary internet pharmacy logo had been asked for a copy of their risk assessment of the services they provide online. The GPhC also asked them for a list of changes they have made to their online services as a result of the updated guidance. 

Patel added: “If there are circumstances where the person does not have a regular prescriber, such as a GP, or if there is no consent to share information, and the prescriber has decided to still issue a prescription, then pharmacists should assure themselves that the prescriber has made a clear record setting out their justification for prescribing.”

Although the report said that five online pharmacies provided the medicines without the GP’s approval, it did not say how many online pharmacies were included in the investigation and whether other pharmacies had refused to prescribe.

Last updated
Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, October 2019;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2019.20207125