Press release

Regulator investigating the diversion of prescription only medicines

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is conducting a large scale investigation into the diversion of prescription only medicines to the criminal market

Crime scene tape

Following referrals from enforcement authorities in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, MHRA became aware of a significant diversion of benzodiazepines and other hypnotics/anxiolytics.

Uncommonly, the medicines were legitimate UK products which had been diverted from the regulated supply chain. Following the referrals, investigations led by MHRA identified the scale and extent of the diversion.

As part of our ongoing investigation two pharmacists based in Yorkshire have been arrested following the purchase of more than 200 thousand packs of benzodiazepines and other powerful drugs. The proportion of these medicines dispensed by the pharmacists is very small. They have been arrested in relation to a number of offences including possession with intent to supply a controlled drug.

Our investigation has shown an extensive network of criminality involving businesses such as wholesale dealers and including a small number of registered pharmacies in the UK.

There is no indication that this criminality has led to medicines shortages or issues with the legitimate supply of medicines to the public. Consequently, medicines supplied through registered pharmacies are unaffected.

When purchasing medicines online, we recommend people look for the distance selling logo and check our Medicines Seller Register that the pharmacy or online retailer is legitimate. Any websites selling medicines illegally can be reported to us online.

Alastair Jeffrey, MHRA Head of Enforcement, said:

Selling medicines other than through the legitimate supply chain is illegal.

Evidence shows extensive criminality involving a number of businesses. As a matter of priority we are working with our regulatory and law enforcement colleagues to identify and prosecute those involved in this activity and to implement preventative measures to make sure this illegal industry is shut down.

Prescription only medicines are, by their very nature, potent and should only be prescribed by a doctor or appropriate healthcare professional. We would advise people not to buy medicines from unregulated sources as they pose a danger to their health.

We will continue to track down and prosecute those involved.

Notes to Editor

  1. MHRA is responsible for regulating all medicines and medical devices in the UK. All our work is underpinned by robust and fact-based judgments to ensure that the benefits justify any risks. MHRA is a centre of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency which also includes the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) and the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD). The Agency is an executive agency of the Department of Health.

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Published 16 December 2016