EU public awareness of online falsified meds ‘varied’

EU countries are being urged to do more to boost public awareness on the dangers of buying falsified medicines online, according to a new report.

Published by the EU’s Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy (ASOP EU) and the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines (EAASM), the report details efforts by member states on the progress made to educate the public about the risks of buying medicines on the internet.

The report comes ahead of the Falsified Medicines Directive, due to come into force next February, which includes a provision that member states must raise public awareness of the dangers of falsified medicines and internet pharmacies that sell drugs without the need for a prescription, of which there are more than 35,000 websites that operate illegally.

According to the report, such public facing campaigns to raise awareness “appear to be variable across the EU countries”.

The report found that Greece, Luxembourg and Romania currently do not have a competent authority website set up with campaign material.

Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia and Sweden do not have public facing campaigns running now or in the past, while Estonia, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia and Sweden do not have campaigns planned for the future. For several countries, this status is not known.

In addition, the report found that Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia and Sweden had no means of measuring campaigns and awareness of the common logo and falsified medicines. Again, information for several countries regarding this was not known.

Countries that were proactive in launching campaigns and raising awareness, with future plans and a means to measure the impact included: Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the UK.

While the presence of dodgy websites selling suspicious medicines is well known among regulators and relevant authorities, “unfortunately the knowledge by those who most need it – the public is woefully lacking”, the report said, urging for “continual progress” by member states and the European Commission to further inform the public.

“It is of paramount importance that the unwitting public is not duped into buying medicines that may be unlicensed in the country of receipt, may contain too much, too little or no active ingredient at all or indeed may contain substances that can seriously harm the buyer,” the report said. “We therefore call upon Member States, the Commission, the Parliament and all interested parties to continue to build on the many initiatives that raise public awareness, which in turn will help to combat this growing threat to public health.”

Under the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD), member states were obliged, from 1 July 2015, to implement a “Common Logo” on all legitimate and registered websites that sold medicines so that consumers could recognise the authenticity of the online pharmacy.

The logo, which contains the flag of the country the website is registered in, has the wording “Click to verify if this website is operating legally”. Clicking the logo takes the consumer to a list of registered online pharmacies for that country where legality can be verified.

Although this is seen as securing the supply chain, there have also been concerns the logo can be copied and pasted.

However, the FMD, under Article 85d, also requires member states to inform the public about the purpose of the Common Logo and the dangers relating to falsified medicines.

“This is a clear call to action for member states to raise public awareness. This report further highlights that need,” the report said. “The private organisations such as ASOP Global and ASOP EU are already facilitating a close and collaborative bond to help support the implementation of Article 85d. This collaboration is encompassing many face-to-face sharing best practice meetings with member states with the aspiration to accelerate campaigns to help ensure the public become better educated as to how to buy medicines safely via genuine pharmacies using the Internet.”

It added: “We hope that this report further encourages all Member States to become even more involved in the implementation of the Common Logo and raising public awareness about this critical issue of falsified medicines.”

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