A recent investigation by The Daily Mail into the illegal supply of prescription only medicines (POMs), has led to the arrest of eight pharmacists.

The undercover investigation revealed evidence of pharmacists illegally selling highly addictive POMs to customers without prescriptions.

These drugs include a tranquilliser called Xanax, also known by the name Alprazolam, which is widely prescribed in the US to treat anxiety, but has been banned by the NHS and is only obtainable on private prescription in the UK. It can cause withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, insomnia, depression, psychosis and suicidal thoughts, and has been linked to several deaths.

One pharmacist exposed in the investigation sold 60 Xanax tablets for £2.50 each and 100 Tramadol capsules for £250 to the undercover Mail reporter. Both Xanax and Tramadol are Class C controlled drugs, and so selling them without a prescription is illegal and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.

What is happening now?

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) is working together with the Police and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to investigate the illegal supply of POMs on the black market. They have currently arrested eight pharmacists, one of which has been charged.

As the independent regulator for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises in Great Britain, GPhC is investigating 23 pharmacists and have struck off two this year for selling POMs. Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the GPhC said:

We are working closely with the MHRA on a major ongoing investigation into the diversion of prescription medicines away from the normal supply chain. We have already taken action to suspend six pharmacists under interim orders and are actively reviewing at each stage of the investigations whether we need to take further action to protect the public."

We would also strongly urge people not to take any prescription medicines unless this has been prescribed by a health professional who is satisfied that the medicine is clinically appropriate for them, otherwise they could be putting their health at serious risk.”