UK medicines watchdog goes festive on fakes

The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is raising public awareness of counterfeit medicines via an ingenious campaign – a festive advent calendar.

Taking advantage of the Christmas season, the medicines watchdog has launched a 'FakeMeds' digital advent calendar where new content about counterfeit drugs in the UK is revealed from behind a closed door every day until Christmas.

The campaign is part of the ongoing FakeMeds initiative, which raises awareness of the risks of buying fake drugs and medical devices from unregistered websites and other online sources.

Starting on 1 December, day 1 of the advent calendar warns against buying "dodgy HIV self-test kits", advising they should be bought from trusted sources and making sure they have a CE mark, while day 2 urges people not to turn to "dodgy diet pills" after overeating during the Christmas period.

Other boxes so far in the advent calendar include advice to look out for fake condoms and to avoid unlicensed 'smart' pills. It also urges the public to check for the 'distance selling logo' on legitimate online pharmacies if purchasing medicines via the internet, as well as mentioning some of the nasty side effects from fake drugs.

The boxes also include information on seizures carried out by the MHRA in 2016, video content on counterfeit medicines and information on how to report concerns about fake drugs.

Using the hashtag #FakeMeds, the MHRA is promoting the calendar and driving awareness via Twitter, and encouraging pharmacists, healthcare professionals and the public to take part and share the hashtag as well, Lynda Scammell, senior policy manager at the MHRA, told C + D.

"We [have] found that understanding of falsified medicines among the public is low, in terms of what the risk are and how to buy safely. The advent calendar is a light-hearted way to deliver a serious public health message. We would love pharmacies to get involved in the campaign by promoting the calendar over their own social media," she said.

During the summer of 2016, the MHRA seized 4,644,885 illegal medicines and 116,765 medical devices, and 22,000 fake condoms.

According to the medicines watchdog, seizures of drugs, particularly erectile dysfunction drugs, have increased over the past year, suggesting that the UK is being flooded with knock-off copies.

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