The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has confirmed that it is consulting on measures to introduce prison sentences to combat fake online pharmacies and those selling counterfeit medicines.

If the consultation is passed, convicted individuals could face a maximum penalty of 10-12 years in prison if they are found guilty of supplying, offering to supply, manufacturing, assembling or storing counterfeit medicines.

A spokesperson for the MHRA told E-Health Insider: “The consultation is mainly about the supply chain as whole and more robust measures to prevent counterfeit medicines. However, the internet has to be a consideration of the consultation.

“A lot of counterfeit drugs come from the internet and we will take action against those sites as long as they are based in the UK. For those based outside the UK we will talk to our counterparts.”

The consultation, which was launched at the end of December, states that the aim of the proposals are to provide “a significant strengthening of controls over the movement of medicines throughout the legitimate supply chain and provide greater protection against the risk of counterfeit medicines reaching patients in the UK.”

The deadline for responses is 12 March 2010. The MHRA spokesperson pointed out that there are several organisations that already help to prevent counterfeit medicines reaching the public.

They include the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, which provides a recognised symbol for bonafide medicines. The Trade Mark Act is currently used prosecute most criminals involved in the supply of counterfeit medicines.

The MHRA together with Pfizer, the Royal College, The Patients Association and HEART UK recently launched a public awareness campaign to inform the public of the dangers of buying counterfeit medicines online.

A hard-hitting TV advertisement showing a man coughing-up a rat kicked off the campaign. It was followed by a national billboard poster campaign showing a person on an autopsy table after buying fake medicines online.

The agency believes 50-90% of medicines bought without a prescription, or via unregulated websites, are counterfeit.

Link: Consultation notice