Q&A: viagra without prescription

Behind the Headlines

Friday June 19 2009

“Viagra will be available over the counter from today without the need for a prescription,” the Daily Mirror said. Several other newspapers reported the move to make the erectile dysfunction drug available for sale at selected Boots pharmacies.

Normally, the drug can only be issued with a doctor’s prescription but, following a pilot scheme in Manchester, trained pharmacists will now be able to sell the drug to men depending on their responses to a brief health assessment.


Does this mean I can go into a pharmacy and buy viagra?

Contrary to newspaper reports, viagra will not be available “over the counter” and remains classified as a prescription-only drug. Boots has been given permission to issue the drug in 29 stores, but only to men who clear a suitability assessment performed by a specially trained pharmacist. So far, Boots is the only pharmacy to have been given such permission.

The Boots assessment includes a health questionnaire and a 30-minute consultation to check a number of factors, such as medical history, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar. Men will also have to agree to have information passed on to their doctor and may be asked to attend follow-up sessions with their pharmacist.


If viagra is prescription only, why has Boots been given permission to sell it?

Medical professionals, including trained pharmacists, can apply for permission to issue certain drugs under the Patient Group Direction scheme. To get permission, pharmacies must be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency and the Care Quality Commission, which regulate the provision of medicines and healthcare.

Boots is the only pharmacist to have received permission to sell prescription-only viagra, and any issuing of viagra must be accompanied by appropriate health checks. This is because viagra can potentially interact with common medicines, such as blood pressure and angina medication, or cause complications if used by people with certain health conditions.


Does this mean I can buy viagra online?

It is illegal to sell drugs without an appropriate licence and, in the UK, there are currently no internet pharmacists that are licensed to distribute viagra without a prescription. Any websites claiming to sell viagra should be avoided as they will not be regulated by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPS) and there may be concerns over quality, safety and effectiveness of the products they provide. One recent survey of doctors by the medical newspaper GP found that one in four have treated patients for problems that were caused by internet-bought medicines.


What are the risks of buying viagra online?

People who attempt to buy viagra or treatments for erectile dysfunction online risk wasting their money on costly fakes. More seriously, they could be putting their health in danger. Viagra-style drugs bought online may be counterfeit, contain unsafe levels of active ingredients or have other harmful substances added to them.

Even if a product on sale is genuine, medicines can interact with each other and many need to be accompanied by safety checks and advice from qualified, regulated clinical staff. Unregulated websites cannot provide this important safety measure.


Are there legitimate internet pharmacies?

There are legitimate internet pharmacies which sell medications online. They must be registered with the RPS, which regulates their safety. Currently, none of these pharmacies can provide viagra without a prescription.

While internet pharmacies can make it easier to obtain prescribed drugs, they cannot replace necessary face-to-face consultations with clinical staff, as the RPS has emphasised. Viagra, like all drugs, has potential side effects so patients may need follow-up assessments after they begin taking the drug.


How can I tell if an online pharmacy is regulated?

The RPS has developed a logo that will appear on the first page of registered online pharmacies. Unscrupulous, illegal websites could still copy and display this logo so, in addition to this, the RPS recommends that users do the following:

  • Check the registration status of the pharmacist.
  • The pharmacy operating the website should be a genuine ‘bricks and mortar’ pharmacy, so look at its name and street address.
  • Websites that sell prescription-only medicines are likely to be illegal in Great Britain.
  • Be suspicious if you’re not asked some questions about your health or the medicine before you buy it. Registered pharmacies are obliged to determine whether the medicine is suitable for you through an online consultation.


What if I have purchased or used a medication that I think may be illegal?

If you’re concerned about the legitimacy of a particular retail pharmacy website, contact the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (email: info@mhra.gsi.gov.uk, phone 020 7084 2000).

If you have taken an illegal medicine and are concerned about possible side effects, speak to a healthcare professional or seek medical treatment.

Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

Viagra goes on high street sale. Guardian, June 19 2009

VIAGRA ON SALE AT THE CHEMIST’S. Daily Express, June 19 2009

Viagra to go on sale over the counter. Daily Mirror, June 19 2009


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