Online pharmacies: Australia needs ‘safe list’

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Substandard and counterfeit medicines, and online pharmacies which aren’t legitimate, are a serious and growing problem, say experts.

Australia needs to set up a “safe list” of online pharmacies in a bid to protect consumers from potentially dangerous medicines, says Dr Conor Hensey from the Department of General Medicines at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, in MJA InSight.

Dr Hensey says that this would allow consumers easy, reliable access to a list of authorised online pharmacies, which they could refer to before buying medicines online.

Dr Hensey co-authored a report published this week in the MJA, examining the Australian perspective on counterfeit drugs.

“In countries with stringent legislation, governance and customs, such as Australia, the prevalence of counterfeit medications is low and estimated by the World Health Organization to be less than 1% of market value,” he and co-author Amanda Gwee write.

“Substandard medications are a greater issue globally, with reduced efficacy and potential for contamination. All may have serious and unpredictable risks.”

Less than 5% of the world’s 36,000 active internet pharmacies are considered to be legitimate, they write.

In the US and European Union, consumers can access lists of authorised websites, such as LegitScript and the EU common logo. However, in Australia, there are no such protections.

Australia needs to take several steps to protect consumers, they write.

  • “All Australian online pharmacies should be accredited through the Quality Care Pharmacy Program. From this, the TGA in conjunction with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia should release a safe list of Australian online pharmacies.
  • Public awareness campaigns should utilise NPS MedicineWise and Australian “Prescriber — resources widely accessed by consumers, pharmacists and prescribers.
  • “The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service should continue to work with global agencies to optimise the identification of counterfeit medications.”


A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild told MJA InSight that the Guild acknowledges the significance of the problem of counterfeit and substandard medicines here and throughout the world.

“The World Health Organization estimates that up to 1% of medicines available in the developed world, and 10% globally, are likely to be counterfeit.

“The globalisation of markets has made the distribution of medicines easier, with people having direct access to medicines via the internet without the need for consultation with a health professional.”

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1 Comment

  1. Gabriel Levitt

    Safe lists can help consumers make the best decisions for their health when it comes to buying medication online. At the same time, it’s critical to give people the widest possible access to safe and affordable medication. Unlike in Australia, drug affordability in the U.S. is a public health crisis, where 10s of millions of people don’t fill prescriptions because of cost – although I’m aware that medicine access problems occur in Australia, too. Some Americans purchase their medications internationally so they can afford it. The movement to create safe lists is compromised by the undue influence of the multinational pharmaceutical industry on that process. I wrote about this in testimony I have in 2013 before House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Congress:

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