Ordering online drugs not licensed in UAE a prescription for trouble

Health experts and customs warn public against buying medication on the internet that is not licensed in the UAE.

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DUBAI // The public has been warned against buying medication over the internet that is not licensed in the UAE or requires a doctor’s prescription.

Drugs such as Adderall and Modafinil, used to treat attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy respectively, are not available here but can be ordered through online pharmacies.

When The National posed as a customer at one online pharmacy, it was told Modafinil had previously been shipped to the Emirates.

“[We do] have a small number of customers based in UAE ordering Modafinil products,” a customer service agent said. “We are aware that customs are vigilant hence all orders are shipped in [a] plain unmarked padded envelope.”

Another company said it had customers from the UAE in the past, but none had purchased more than once.

“We have several customer from UAE, however they just purchased one time so I guess there is no luck for importing medication,” a company representative said.

Neither company responded to requests for an official comment.

The managing director at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi, Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, said: “The trouble has been mostly for people coming from the US and Canada, where there is a greater availability of medications. They have been surprised by a lack of availability here, and have found that the local alternative is not an equivalent.

“There are a number of medications which aren’t registered, and there are people who need these medications.

“Only a minority of people end up doing online ordering. I think [most] people end up suffering.”

Part of the problem, he said, was that agents who supply pharmacies did not see the market as profitable enough to take the necessary steps to register the medicine here.

Dr Amin Hussain Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary for medical practice at the Ministry of Health, said officials wanted to offer the best guidance for patients who might be tempted to use online pharmacies instead of seeking help closer to home.

“We have to study the case and we have to deal with it so carefully,” he said. “If it was for personal use, then we would advise them not to do it again and we take action against the pharmacy.

“If an individual imported narcotic drugs through the website for commercial purposes, that’s a different matter and we have to take action against that person. I can’t say what the specific action would be as it would be action taken by the police.”

Rachel Jex, founder of a Dubai ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) support group, said expatriate parents might be tempted to buy online if they moved to the UAE and found the medicines available were not those that had been prescribed to their child.

“They run into problems because the drugs are similar but they’re not exactly the same, and might not necessarily suit every child,” she said.

She gave an example of the ADHD drug Focalin being used in other countries, but only medicines such as Concerta or Strattera were available here.

"I can understand some parents considering ordering online. But most parents I know wouldn't do that," said Ms Jex. "When it comes to your own child's health, you only want the best. Using medication that's not come a legitimate way is often quite a risky thing to do. The consequences are huge if it's inappropriately prescribed."