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Sunday 21 September 2014

A fresh take on buying drugs online

Published 16/02/2014 | 02:30

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IT can be cheaper to buy drugs online – so long as you shop around and deal with reputable companies.

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You can buy over-the-counter drugs online in Ireland – but you cannot buy prescription medicine. Irish law prohibits companies from supplying prescriptions to Irish residents over the phone or internet.

Most EU countries have a similar ban for residents in their countries – but there are several exceptions.

You can buy prescription drugs online in Britain, Germany, Iceland, Malta, Holland, Slovenia and Sweden.

The European Association of Mail Service Pharmacies (EAMOP) insists mail-order pharmacies are safe and "against illegal pharmaceutical pirates who put counterfeit drugs into circulation".

"For people who are elderly or immobile, or who live in rural areas, mail-order pharmacies are an important supply alternative," said the EAMOP.

It is this concern about cowboys supplying fake drugs which appears to be at the heart of the Irish ban on the online sale of prescription medicine.

"The ban on mail-order sales of pharmaceuticals was put in place because of concerns about the difficulty of guaranteeing the safety, efficacy and quality of mail-order supplies," said Deirdre McHugh, an economist with the Competition Authority.

There are cowboys selling drugs online and these should be avoided at all costs, particularly when health is concerned. But there are plenty of reputable pharmacists who sell prescriptions online safely.

For example, in Germany there are laws which assure the quality and efficacy of prescriptions sold online, according to Christian Splett, spokesman for the Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists, which represents about 60,000 pharmacists.

For example, a prescription must be packed and transported in a way that preserves the drug's quality. A prescription must also usually be posted within two days of an order being placed.

About two years ago, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) questioned whether an outright ban of prescription drugs is necessary.

"While internet and mail-order pharmacies pose well-known problems, a complete prohibition may not be the answer. If internet pharmacies can offer lower cost distribution in a safe manner . . . then the Health Service Executive should consider the viability of their use on a trial basis."

That argument still stands today.

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