Illicit vendors using YouTube to advertise fake drugs, says MHRA

By Dan Stanton

- Last updated on GMT

Rise in use of YouTube and social media by sellers of falsified medicines
Rise in use of YouTube and social media by sellers of falsified medicines

Related tags Drugs Authentication

Regulatory enforcement saw fewer counterfeit drug websites in 2014 but sellers are turning to YouTube and social media sites to advertise their products, according to the MHRA.

In the past year, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) seized medicines with a value of over £3m ($4.5m) as part of its ongoing battle against illegal trade in medicines.

Furthermore, over 1,600 websites involved in advertising and selling falsified, counterfeit or unlicensed drugs were closed down and while this figure was down on 2013, MHRA spokesman Nick Spears told this was due to the agency’s online efforts.

“The money figure is broadly similar to previous years but the number of websites is slightly down on previous years,”​ he said. “This is in part down to the success we have had in taking them down.”

However, one trend among sellers of counterfeit drugs is using social media and auction sites, with Spears telling us the use of YouTube videos to advertise such products “shows to a certain extent a change in tactics by people selling these medicines.”

The MHRA is working with YouTube, Amazon and eBay to identify and take action against illegal operators, and in the past 12 months almost 19,000 online videos were taken down.

Spears said counterfeit and unlicensed Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs, slimming pills, sleeping pills and cognitive enhancers were the majority of the products seized. However, a quick YouTube search​ for ‘buy Viagra’ still brings up a number of adverts for online sellers, despite the MHRA’s efforts.

In a warning to consumers, MHRA’s Head of Enforcement Alastair Jeffrey said today: “Criminals involved in the supply of medicines have no interest in your health; it is simply your money they want.

“Buying medicines online is a risk, may websites operate outside the legal requirements and you have no idea what you are getting and how it will affect you. You are gambling with your health.”

These actions are part of ongoing work and separate from Operation Pangea, a yearly international initiative spun-out from the MHRA’s UK Internet Day of Action in 2006, and involving a number of drug regulators, border agencies and Interpol.

Operation Pangea VII​ detained or seized almost 20,000 packages containing fake medicines in a week last May, and shut down 1,975 websites in violation of US laws.

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