Ask the expert: How to spot fake Parkinson’s medicines online

Special reports

Author: Caithlin NgPublished: 27 February 2020

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In the third in our expert series, we talk to Mike Isles, Executive Director of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy in the EU, about the growing problem of fake Parkinson’s medicines advertised and sold online – from their shocking prevalence to top tips on how to stay safe

Firstly, could you explain to our readers what falsified medicines are?

Falsified, fake or counterfeit medicines are medicines disguising themselves as authentic. They can pose significant health risks and might contain ingredients that are of bad or toxic quality, or they might provide the wrong dosage of active ingredients or an altogether different product. They haven’t been checked for quality, safety and efficacy against the EU’s strict regulations for healthcare products, making them a real risk to your health.

You work for the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy. What is it and what are its key aims?

The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy (ASOP EU) was created in 2011 to raise public awareness about the growing problem of falsified medicines online for European patients. ASOP EU works to encourage development and maintenance of a safe and secure environment in which patients and caregivers may access medications online, if they so choose. This is a complex problem that requires a multifactorial approach – criminals are offering falsified medicines to European citizens on not just 35,000 illegally operating websites, but also through social media and e-commerce platforms.

How common are falsified Parkinson’s medications?

It is difficult to pinpoint the number of websites offering Parkinson’s medications online, but law enforcement officials around the world take down websites and seize packages – many thousands – with falsified medicines every year, including neurological medicines and other highly-coveted prescription drugs. It is clear that if there is a market for a medication, criminals will want to produce falsified versions to meet it. These illegal actors will place any potential profits above public health and patient safety, especially in areas where there is consumer demand.

Mike Isles of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy in the EU

What are some actions that policymakers can take?

The Falsified Medicines Directive has been an excellent lever for helping to secure the legitimate supply chain – this comprises the manufacturer, wholesaler, pharmacist and patient. However, the illegal online pharmacy websites operate outside of the highly-regulated bricks-and-mortar supply chain, so governments should look at the various points of entry that use the internet to ensure they are operating safely for the public.

How aware are people of these scams?

Ninety-six per cent of websites selling medicine are operating illegally, but a survey from ASOP EU’s website found that on average just over 50% of people are unaware of this. Having recognised the pervasive threat of illegal online drug sellers a very high proportion, in fact greater than 90%, indicated a potential change in their behaviour, such as seeking out a bricks-and-mortar pharmacy or an authentic internet pharmacy. Our educational approach appears to be working.

What are your top tips for Parkinson’s community to safely buy medicine online?

The best tip to avoid buying medicine from an illegal online pharmacy is to verify three main items: a licensed pharmacist present on site, a physical address for operations, and a working telephone number. Patients should be wary of websites that offer bulk discounts, too-good-to-be-true prices, or outrageous results, and very importantly that do not require a valid prescription.

Under the EU’s Falsified Medicines Directive, any retailer in a member state must also register with their local health authority to sell medicine online; they are then legally obliged to put a “common logo” on their website. In the UK, patients can check whether the seller is registered on the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency website.

Who can the public consult if they are still unsure?

The first port of call should be their pharmacist or other healthcare provider, who will be knowledgeable about the situation. Because falsified medicines sold online are designed to look as much as possible like the original product, it can be virtually impossible to tell the difference. It is also important not to be duped into thinking that medicines with no legitimate product licence for use in EU member states – therefore accompanied by insufficient clinical evidence – will work and have therapeutic effect.

In addition ASOP EU and its sister non-profit organisation ASOP Global has a wealth of information about this important area, which can be found at

There are lots of people in this world who are not aware of the rigorous clinical tests to prove safety and effectiveness before a medicine receives its licence – and so people can be very vulnerable and willing to try anything because conventional medicine isn’t working or has become unaffordable.

Need to know: Mike Isles is Executive Director of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy in the EU, an organisation addressing the threat of illegal online drug sales. He has had a long career in the pharmaceuticals industry and has since spent the last 10 years devoting his time to patient safety issues.

At a glance: fake medicines online

  • Fake medicines, which can pose significant health risks, are sold on around 35,000 websites and via social media and e-commerce platforms.
  • 96% of websites selling medicines operate illegally – but a survey suggests that over 50% of people are not aware of this.
  • It can be difficult to see the difference between fake and authentic medicines, as they are designed to look similar.
  • Internet users should confirm that an online pharmacy lists a licensed pharmacist, a physical operational address, a working telephone number and requires a valid prescription before placing an order.

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