Pharmacies in the United Kingdom, including those that sell medicines online, must register with the General Pharmaceutical Council, the regulatory body that sets standards for pharmacy owners and maintains a registry of pharmacy professionals in the UK. Like the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and LegitScript in the US, the GPhC administers a seal to Internet pharmacies serving UK citizens, certifying that they comply with UK regulations.
That is well and good when a GPhC-certified Internet pharmacy dispenses drugs to UK residents. But the GPhC’s ability to regulate safe pharmacy practice and insist on authentic drug distribution stops at the UK’s borders — that is, when both the dispensing pharmacy and customer are actually in the UK. That’s why it’s troublesome to see GPhC-registered pharmacies flout the law by lending their UK credential to websites that target US, not UK, customers.
One example is prescriptiondrugs4u.com, a website that piggy-backs on the GPhC registration for Primary Care Pharmacy, whose GPhC registration does not disclose the use of an Internet pharmacy logo. Based on news releases that littered the Internet this spring, the website primarily targets the US. It’s also apparent from the website itself: the default shipping option and currency are for the US; the promotional video on the home page relies upon US data; and it provides a US toll-free number. Moreover, the news releases puff up the online pharmacy as a safer and less expensive option than other (namely, faux-Canadian) websites, using what Americans might have heard about the perils and possible scams of Canadian pharmacies in hopes of attracting more business. The posts in this section mention Obamacare and warn about Thai and Canadian pharmacies — which the website says US customers should avoid, in favor of “our UK-based online pharmacy.”
But are the drugs really shipped from the licensed UK pharmacies? Maybe. The problem is, licensed Canadian, UK and New Zealand Internet pharmacy websites have a sordid history of marketing themselves to US customers, letting US residents believe that they are shipping drugs from pharmacies in the country where the pharmacy is registered, like Canada or the UK, when in fact the order is diverted to a less safe country like India, Turkey (and often that’s just the free trade zone), United Arab Emirates (again, the free trade zone) or Singapore. Often, the entity actually shipping the drugs isn’t even a pharmacy.
In other words, the safety concerns don’t exist because it would be unsafe to walk into a UK pharmacy to get your prescription filled; rather, safety concerns exist because GPhC’s jurisdiction to regulate the Internet pharmacy website’s activity, and ensure that the drugs are really sent by the UK pharmacy, is reduced when the drugs are not shipped to a UK resident, and even more so if the origin of the drugs isn’t actually the UK pharmacy. Because prescriptiondrugs4u.com isn’t a licensed pharmacy in the US, it doesn’t comply with the drug safety and pharmacy licensure requirements of its target market.
So who is behind prescriptiondrugs4u.com?
On the one hand, Primary Care Pharmacy is the pharmacy identified on the website, and it seems likely that Fountain Square Pharmacy Ltd. in Derbyshire (see GPhC registration here) may also be affiliated. WHOIS information for prescriptiondrugs4u.com lists “PrescriptionDrugs4u Ltd” as the current registrant, with Chris Wilson of Staffordshire as the administrative and technical contact. In previous WHOIS records for the domain name, the registrant was Fountain Square Pharmacy Ltd., a company for which Wilson is listed as director. (Wilson also is the director of Prescriptiondrugs4u Ltd., the Staffordshire address of which appears on the WHOIS record for prescriptiondrugs4u.com.)
But it appears there is also a US connection –– not in terms of orders being filled by a licensed US pharmacy, but rather someone from inside the US is likely helping to run the Internet business itself. The website’s customers are directed to transfer payment to RBS Citizens Bank in Boston, Massachusetts, and the business provides a US office address of 201 East Main Street in Maple Shade, New Jersey — the location of a chiropractor and answering service/call center.
The Internet pharmacy prescriptiondrugs4u.com operates illegally: it targets US residents without a valid pharmacy license in the US, and the drugs, being illegally imported, are not considered FDA-approved. Troublingly, in social media, news releases and on its website, prescriptiondrugs4u.com seizes on American patients’ concerns about doing business with foreign online drug sellers that fail to comply with drug safety rules, diverting attention from the fact that it’s engaged in precisely the same sort of legal violation and unsafe activity.
At the heart of prescriptiondrugs4u.com‘s marketing strategy, of course, is its ability to rely upon the GPhC seal of approval to convince Americans that the website is a safe, legal Internet pharmacy. But that’s not what the GPhC program is meant for — and indeed, the GPhC cannot ensure that Internet pharmacies shipping drugs to the US are safe or genuine. To prevent this sort of misuse of its certification program, GPhC should ask Primary Care Pharmacy for information about the number of orders it has shipped into the US on behalf of the website, as well as for documentation about its business relationship with the website operator. Even more so, the GPhC should require that pharmacies making use of the GPhC seal target only customers in the GPhC’s jurisdiction — or face disciplinary action.