Bogus online pharmacies are tricking customers into buying sleeping pills, anti-anxiety tablets and painkillers – many of which are fake – without a prescription.

    A Sunday Times investigation has found that these rogue suppliers are using new techniques to draw people in, such as tricking search engines like Google to put them on the first page of the search results or engineering positive ratings online.

    The truth of the matter is that these pharmacies, which are often registered to anonymous Russian owners, hosted by Chinese web servers, aren’t registered with independent regulator the General Pharmaceutical Council – and as such, they don’t comply with UK laws.

    One expert went so far as to warn that these providers often strengthen the pills by mixing them with other chemicals. The products that are actually supplied are versions of drugs not licensed for sale in this country, improperly obtained or fakes that are either too strong or cut with something else.

    In August, undercover reporters from the news source succeeded in ordering five types of medication that should only be provided with a prescription. These pills arrived in a brown envelope in the Royal Mail post, coming from Willenhall in Wolverhampton – with no original packaging and no instruction leaflets.

    Director of pharmacy at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Robbie Turner said: “This is online drug dealing that is just as illegal and dangerous as buying drugs from somebody on the street.

    “You don’t have any idea what’s in the tablets you’re buying. At best they could be useless and at worst they could kill you. I empathise with people who are embarrassed about seeking help for medical problems. I would urge them to speak to their pharmacist or doctor before even considering purchasing medicines from these sites.”

    Safe use of medication depends on people being able to read labels and packets carefully so they can act based on the information provided – and it depends on their being packets and labels in the first place, as well.

    Discussing your secondary and tertiary packaging needs with a professional and experienced pharmaceutical packaging company is absolutely essential, whether you’re looking at big commercial volumes or smaller niche drugs.

    The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which approves all packaging and labelling information for medication in this country, has guidelines in place to help businesses ensure safe use of medication.

    All relevant European and UK legislation should be read before you make an assessment submission. Complaints about labels, leaflets and packaging are investigated by the organisation, all assessed to see if there is a safety issue or if there is no case to answer.

    Investigations usually take 30 days, although it may take longer if further detailed discussion or statutory action is required.