Online pharmacies are fuelling the rise of drug-resistant superbugs by handing out antibiotics without asking for a prescription, an investigation has found.
A study by Imperial College London found evidence suggesting that nearly half of online-only pharmacies are selling the drugs illegally, with eight in 10 letting customers choose the size of the their dosages.
Inappropriate use of antibiotics is prompting an increase in the number of pathogens which are immune to the drugs, leading to a warning last year that antimicrobial resistance could return medicine to the “dark ages” and kill tens of millions of people.
Dr Sara Boyd, co-author of the NHS-backed study, said: “These findings are a real concern, and raise several important issues regarding antibiotic resistance and patient safety with online pharmacies.”
Her research team analysed 20 pharmacies that were available for UK consumers to access online, and found 75 per cent appeared not to be legally registered.
Meanwhile only 30 per cent of the websites asked customers to complete a health questionnaire prior to dispensing drugs, the study found.
All online medicine vendors selling to UK consumers must by law register with both the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the General Pharmaceutical Council.
The research is published in Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.