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18 March 2021

Prescription only psoriasis medicines listed for sale on classified advertisements website

The Psoriasis Association flagged this issue to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Last year the Psoriasis Association became aware of a number of listings advertising prescription only psoriasis medicines for sale on the classified advertisements website, Gumtree. Over a period of time in 2020, we found several listings for the potent topical steroid and vitamin D combination treatment, Enstilar foam, on the site. Upon reporting the listings to Gumtree, they were taken down swiftly, however it’s concerning that they were able to be listed in the first place.

We flagged this issue up to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), an executive agency sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of medicines and medical devices in the UK. One of the MHRA’s roles is to investigate internet sales of medicines.

In the UK, all categories of medicines can be traded online, providing all legal requirements are met. For example, a prescription only medicine can be dispensed online by a registered pharmacy, only in accordance with a prescription issued by a relevant healthcare professional. These medicines should not, however, be available to purchase online via private sellers who do not have the required registration or proper procedures in place to ensure that the recipient has the necessary prescription. The availability of prescription only medicines via a classified advertisements website is, therefore, problematic, as it means that such medicines could potentially be purchased and used without the direction of a qualified medical professional.

What action has been taken?

In March 2021, we received an update from the MHRA. Since we brought this issue to their attention, they have been able to arrange a meeting with Gumtree, where they discussed Gumtree’s policy on prohibited items (which does include prescription drugs/medicines, steroids and over the counter drugs) and confirmed with them that medicines and supplements are not permitted for sale through the platform.

The MHRA also assured us that a range of tools and filters are in place to ensure that prohibited items are not offered for sale on Gumtree, and filters include a broad range of brand names and generic terms.

We are reassured by this action from the MHRA, and hope that it will help prevent prescription only medicines being offered for sale through Gumtree in the future.

Why is this important?

There is a good reason why certain medicines are controlled. It is important that a qualified medical professional has the opportunity to assess the patient and ensure that the medicine is safe and appropriate for them to use before prescribing it, taking into account the individual’s medical history and any other medications they may be taking at the time. In the case of a potent topical steroid, the treatment should not be applied to widespread areas of psoriasis, used for a long period of time without a break, or be discontinued abruptly. This is all important information which would usually be provided to a patient by their doctor when the treatment is prescribed.

The internet undoubtedly has its advantages when it comes to stocking up on your favourite general sale creams and ointments, particularly during a pandemic when getting out to the shops can be tricky and you may otherwise run out. However, it remains vital that the sale of controlled medicines is regulated appropriately in order to ensure they are used safely.