Medicines on the web - Risks and benefits

The global nature of the Internet makes it an excellent way to promote health. But it can also give misleading information or be used to market harmful health care products. To a lot of consumers, the Internet means low prices, discounts, privacy, and access for people living in remote places or who want first access to new products.

There are countless illegal offers of medicines on the Internet, many of them counterfeit. The World Health Organization estimates that in over 50 % of cases medicines purchased over the Internet from sites that conceal their physical address are counterfeit.

MEDICRIME Convention

In 2010 the Council of Europe adopted the Convention on counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes involving threats to public health (MEDICRIME Convention), the first international criminal law treaty to address this public health problem.

The convention provides a framework for sanctions, victim protection and national and international co-operation, and considers the use of the Internet to distribute counterfeit medical products to be an aggravating circumstance. It is open for signature by any country in the world.

The MEDICRIME Convention criminalises:

- the manufacturing of counterfeit medical products;
- supplying, offering to supply and trafficking in counterfeit medical products;
- the falsification of documents;
- the unauthorised manufacturing or supplying of medicinal products and the marketing of medical devices that do not comply with conformity requirements.

Objectives of the Council of Europe
  • Guaranteeing everyone’s fundamental right to access information on health issues.
  • Raising awareness about the risks of counterfeit medicines for public health.
  • Combating counterfeit and illegal medicines and health care products.
  • Setting standards and taking practical measures to promote public health and high quality medicines and for countries to co-operate on ways to criminalise illegal practices.

The European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and HealthCare (EDQM) contributes to the basic human right of access to good quality medicines and health care by:

  • Elaborating quality standards for the manufacture and quality control of medicines in Europe (a European Pharmacopoeia comprising over 2000 standards) and beyond; and ensuring they are applied to substances used for the production of medicines.
  • Co-ordinating a network of some 100 official medicines control laboratories in 35 countries.
  • Working with national and international organisations to combat illegal and counterfeit medicinal and medical products.
  • Providing policies and model approaches for the safe use of medicines in Europe, including guidelines on pharmaceutical care.
  • Establishing ethical and quality standards for the collection, storage and use of blood components for blood transfusion and organ transplantation.
  • Contributing to protect the health of consumers through specific programmes for standards for cosmetics and food packaging.
  • Committee of Ministers Resolution on good practices for distributing medicines via mail order (2007);
  • Council of Europe Survey on counterfeit medicines (2006);
  • Model of a network of single points of contact (2007);
  • Committee of Ministers Recommendation on the impact of information technologies on health care – the patient and Internet (2004);
  • Committee of Ministers Resolution on the pharmacist’s role in the framework of health security (2001);
  • Practical guide for users to distinguish doubtful from reliable medical information, which also informs about the risks of buying medicines on the Internet;
  • Training for officials in the health and law enforcement sector on how to combat counterfeit medicines and protect public health.
Next steps

The Council of Europe is encouraging states all over the world to accede to the MEDICRIME Convention, which was opened for signature in Moscow on 28 October 2011.