Letter to the Editor

January 1, 2003

I thought Ben Coppin’s article on the online sale of prescription drugs (C&L 13/4) was very interesting

but the assertion that the Medicines Control Agency (MCA) has not prosecuted a single case under the Medicines Act 1968 is not correct. The site www.mca.gov.uk/ourwork/enforcemedleg/prosecutions.htm contains details of the recent prosecutions brought by the MCA. The MCA has brought a number of prosecutions against UK online suppliers of prescription drugs, although such cases can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

For example, on 24 April 2001, at South Western Magistrates’ Court in London a Mr John Williams pleaded guilty to one count of selling sildenafil (Viagra) otherwise than in accordance with a prescription given by an appropriate practitioner contrary to ss58(2) and 67(2) of the Medicines Act 1968.

Williams, a director of Claremont Ltd, a company that he operated from his home and which had been advertising the Viagra for sale on the Internet, was sentenced on 5 June 2001 at Kingston Crown Court. Judge Binning, on sentencing Williams, commented that the matter was serious because the Viagra may be medically inappropriate for those purchasing and using it. Although the judge considered a custodial sentence he took into account the small number of tablets sold (4) and imposed instead a fine of £5,000 and ordered the defendant to pay the total prosecution costs of £4,587.40.

More recently, in 2002, the MCA brought a successful prosecution against an online seller of Viagra in the Stafford Crown Court. On this occasion the vendor received a 12-month custodial sentence and was ordered to forfeit a substantial sum which was estimated to represent the proceeds of his criminal activity.