NPS-Dangerous Drugs Online: Counterfeits and Undeclared Ingredients

1 February 2012

The risks associated with self-medication have been amplified by the ability to buy prescription, non-prescription and complementary medicines as well as ‘recreational’ drugs online, according to an article by Dr Ben Davies in the February issue of Australian Prescriber.

Prescription and non-prescription medicines can be bought legitimately online within Australia, and prescription drugs may be legally imported into the country as long as regulatory requirements are met.

However Dr Davies, from the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in Adelaide, says that some medicines ordered over the internet may be counterfeits or contain undeclared ingredients.

“Some prescription medicines available online contain little, if any, of the active ingredient, meaning the product may not work as advertised,” says Dr Davies.

“Meanwhile, some ‘herbal’, ‘traditional’ and ‘dietary supplement’ medicines sold over the internet may contain undeclared chemicals or prescription drugs.”

The products most commonly marketed fraudulently on the internet include treatments for hair loss, impotence and obesity, while contaminated weight loss products and illicit recreational drugs are also of concern.

“Marketing on the internet has not been limited to therapeutic drugs,” says Dr Davies. “There is a growing variety of new recreational or ‘designer’ drugs, and knowledge about their effects on users is limited.”

NPS has the following tips for those considering purchasing medicines online:

  • Be wary of making purchases online where you can’t talk to a health professional about your individual circumstances
  • Use Australian sites, as overseas medicines may not meet Australia’s strict quality and safety standards
  • Buy only from sites that ask you to produce a valid prescription from a doctor
  • Beware of sites that offer revolutionary, new or miracle cures – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

To read the full article and others visit

Anyone with questions about their medicine can also call the Medicines Line (1300 MEDICINE or 1300 633 424), Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm EST.


Australian Prescriber is an independent peer-reviewed journal providing critical commentary on therapeutic topics for health professionals, particularly doctors in general practice. It is published by NPS, an independent, not-for-profit organisation for quality use of medicines funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Australian Prescriber is published every two months, in hard copy that is distributed to health professionals free of charge, and online in full text at 

For more information from NPS, please go click:

NPS-Dangerous Drugs Online: Counterfeits and Undeclared Ingredients