EXCLUSIVE: Now dark web dealers cash in on HRT crisis: Vital treatments being sold at FOUR times the NHS price
Online traders are cashing in on the HRT shortage by selling vital treatments over the ‘dark web’, analysis reveals.
Research commissioned by the Daily Mail reveals a one-month supply of Oestrogel, which many women are desperate to get their hands on, is available on a hidden collective of internet sites.
A single NHS prescription for HRT costs £9.35. However, Russian sellers are advertising the equivalent – an 80g tube – at £37.65, and Thai dealers are offering it for £19.05.
The analysis also revealed there are nine different options for Oestrogel to be bought on the dark web, with the majority of products being sold from Thailand. The cheapest option cost twice as much as an NHS prescription.
Unauthorised sellers based in Russia, Thailand and Brazil are capitalising on the UK’s HRT crisis by advertising crucial products at up to four times the price of an NHS prescription
Experts have slammed the revelations, saying traders are ‘exploiting’ the desperate situation women have found themselves in.
Meanwhile, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said it is ‘dismayed’ that HRT has now ended up on the dark web – sites accessed via specific software, where crimes including trading in illegal drugs and ammunition are rife.
While it is not illegal to obtain HRT this way, those accessing it will not have been assessed by a medical professional and can simply order it to their address.
Experts have also raised concerns about ‘low quality’ products that could be counterfeits.
Professor Alan Woodward, a cyber expert from the University of Surrey, said: ‘The issue is that when people are desperate they will turn to alternative sources.
‘You can almost guarantee that if anything is in short supply there will be [traders] online offering to sell it.
‘There is no situation [they] won’t exploit – including when people are in need of life-changing medication. The trouble is that you are dealing with an anonymous group who are completely unaccountable.
‘Hence, you have no idea if what you receive is what you ordered, or if you’ll receive anything at all. Worse still it could be a substance that could do you serious harm.’
Dee Murray, chief executive and founder of the group Menopause Experts, said: ‘The HRT shortage is causing stress and potential harm for women, with some pushed to take matters into their own hands and look for supplies online.
‘Dark web dealers are cashing in on the shortage of HRT treatments by preying on the desperate, who have no guarantee of what will actually arrive in the post.
These sellers exist outside the law in an unregulated netherworld where there’s no comeback for purchasers who don’t get what they paid for or, worse, are exposed to harmful chemicals and sham medicines.’
She added: ‘Buying drugs on the dark web or through any unauthorised seller is inherently risky and potentially very dangerous. HRT should only be prescribed by qualified healthcare practitioners who understand the patient’s history.’
Medicines from unregulated websites are more likely to be illegal counterfeits of low quality and can put a patient’s health at risk
Diane Danzebrink, founder of the website Menopause Support, said she is ‘really concerned’ by the Mail’s findings.
She urged women who are struggling to access their HRT to speak to their GP or pharmacist to find ‘an alternative licensed, regulated product for short-term use’.
The Mail has been campaigning to Fix the HRT Crisis and has previously revealed that women are being forced to pay up to eight times the NHS price at private online pharmacies.
Wing Tang, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: ‘We are dismayed that women are being put in a position where they feel they need to source their medicines from the dark web.
‘Medicines from unregulated websites are more likely to be illegal counterfeits of low quality and can put a patient’s health at risk. We are hopeful the new HRT taskforce will help tackle the problem of HRT shortages.’