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Pictured at the announcement of the HPRA mid-year update on detention figures is Ms Grainne Power, Director of Compliance at the HPRA, with some of the illegal or falsified medicines detained in 2021

Figures were released as Health Products Regulatory Authority launched campaign to increase awareness of dangers of buying prescription medicines online.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) recently stated that whilst the volume of detained illegal medicines in the first half of 2022 has fallen significantly compared to the same period in 2021, a substantial amount of product is still being sourced online, which poses risks to people’s health.

The HPRA enforcement section detained nearly half a million (486,088) dosage units of falsified and other illegal medicines between January and June 2022 (895,591 for the first half of 2021). Announcing its mid-year update of detention figures, the HPRA reminded the public of the health risks associated with prescription medicines purchased online from unauthorised sources. 

In the first six months of 2022, the main categories of illegal products detained included sedatives (28 per cent), anabolic steroids (12 per cent), erectile dysfunction medicines (9 per cent) and analgesics (7 per cent). The breakdown is: 

  • Sedative medicines — 137,587 units detained (434,157 units detained Jan-June 2021). 
  • Anabolic steroids — 59,764 units detained (59,750 units detained Jan-June 2021). 
  • Erectile dysfunction — 41,635 units were detained (56,878 units detained Jan-June 2021). 
  • Analgesic medicines — 33,542 units detained (105,769 units detained Jan-June 2021). 
  • 43,707 units of Covid-19 medicines detained (23,172 units detained Jan-June 2021). 
  • 287 websites, e-commerce listings and/or social media pages amended or shut down (167 Jan-June 2021). 

According to Ms Grainne Power, Director of Compliance with the HPRA, the reduction of detentions in the first half of 2022 cannot be linked to any one factor alone. 

“Although the volume of detentions has decreased, we are still observing significant levels of potent prescription medicines that are being illegally supplied into Ireland. These levels remain very concerning, with so many people prepared to take a chance in ordering prescription medicines online. When you acquire medicines from unregulated sources, you simply have no idea what you are getting. This isn’t merely about people wasting money on falsified or counterfeit products, it is also about the very real dangers of significant side-effects, of using a product without supervision where there is no guarantee of what it contains and of experiencing interactions with other medicines being taken. All of these risks have the potential to make your condition worse or cause serious harm to health,” Ms Power said. 

To highlight the health risks of sourcing prescription medicines online, the HPRA announced the launch of a new multi-platform digital information campaign to warn the public of the issue. Incorporating both social media and display advertising, the campaign will target members of the general public and highlight to them the very real dangers presented when buying prescription medicines online. 

Ms Power outlined the role the HPRA’s digital campaign can play in increasing public awareness and understanding of the safe supply routes for medicines and the associated dangers of buying prescription medicines online. 

“Given the fact that so many transactions take place online, it is particularly important and appropriate to highlight those risks through online channels and, where possible, to influence the decision of the buyer prior to purchase. We hope our campaign will make people stop and think before they seek to purchase prescription medicines online and ultimately persuade them not to use this route.” 

As part of its regulatory activities in this area, the HPRA routinely monitors websites, social media sites and e-commerce listings selling prescription medicines into Ireland and will take action to remove or amend content when necessary. 

The HPRA works in close co-operation with colleagues from An Garda Síochána and Revenue’s Customs Service, with whom there is significant inter-agency collaboration to combat the illegal supply of health products into and within Ireland. It also co-operates and shares intelligence with other regulatory and law enforcement agencies worldwide to prevent the illegal manufacture, importation and distribution of medicines, medical devices, and cosmetics. 

The HPRA is responsible for prosecuting cases where it considers that there is a significant risk to public health or where there are persistent non-compliances. The HPRA also supports prosecutions brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the illegal supply of medicines. 

To inform members of the public about the dangers associated with buying prescription medicines online, the HPRA has published advice for consumers in plain English on its website,