Revealed: Thousands of NHS patients may have taken pills tampered with by criminal gangs linked to Italian mafia
- Prostate cancer treatments are among medicines stolen from Italian hospitals
- Government agency was aware of contraband pills in 2014 but kept this secret
- Documents show scores of other tainted medicines were shipped to Britain
Thousands of NHS patients may have taken pills that have been tampered with by criminal gangs linked to the Italian mafia.
Treatments for prostate cancer and epilepsy are among commonly prescribed medicines that were stolen from Italian hospitals and sold to unwitting UK pharmacies.
The Government’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was alerted in August 2014 that contraband pills were circulating in the NHS system – yet failed to alert the public.
An internal investigation was made a priority last night to discover how the MHRA allowed the tablets to be handed to patients, despite being made aware of the concerns.
Thousands of NHS patients may have taken pills that have been tampered with by criminal gangs linked to the Italian mafia (stock image)
Italian Medicines Agency documents show that scores of other tainted medicines, including statins and pills for Parkinson’s disease, have been shipped to Britain.
Health chiefs admit there is now ‘no trace’ of them, or a record of who they were prescribed to.
Even if the drugs are genuine, once removed from the official supply system they are deemed legally unsafe.
Trident Pharmaceuticals, which supplies Lloyds Pharmacy’s 1,500 pharmacies in the UK, is understood from paperwork from the Italian authorities to be one of the biggest purchasers of the stolen drugs, having bought them from legitimate suppliers.
In a statement last night, MHRA chief executive Ian Hudson claimed they deemed the drugs legitimate and ‘the risk to patients was low’.
But one epilepsy sufferer told how five years ago – at the time stolen Italian epilepsy pills had entered the UK – his seizures became severe and uncontrollable.
The Government’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was alerted in August 2014 that contraband pills were circulating in the NHS system – yet failed to alert the public (stock image)
Since being prescribed new medication, his condition has vastly improved.
Drug safety expert Professor Atholl Johnston, of London’s Queen Mary University, said: ‘The consequences could be life-threatening.
‘If an anti-epilepsy drug is ineffective, the patient may well have a fit and could die.’
The findings only came to light after an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches uncovered the secretive world of prescription pill trading, estimated to be worth £1 billion a year in the UK alone.
Medicines can be legally bought by UK pharmacies for NHS use from countries where they are on sale at a cheaper price.
Roughly ten per cent of medicines dispensed in the UK are obtained this way.
Dispatches found that the Italian gangs set up bogus Hungarian wholesalers to infiltrate the supply chain and then sell the stolen medication to legitimate pharmaceutical wholesalers to supply UK firms.
alian Medicines Agency documents show that scores of other tainted medicines, including statins and pills for Parkinson’s disease, have been shipped to Britain (stock image)
When it was first approached, the MHRA claimed there was ‘no evidence of these medicines reaching patient level in the UK’.
But in January it admitted that unsafe drugs had been sold by wholesalers to UK pharmacies between 2012 and 2014.
The MHRA’s Mr Hudson said last night: ‘We acknowledge there is a possibility that some of these medicines reached patients [but] we do not hold prescribing data.
‘I have ordered an internal review of our investigation practices to make sure if there are areas that need strengthening, we address these as a priority.’
How Safe Are Your Medicines?: Dispatches will be screened on Channel 4 tomorrow at 8pm.