Your LIFE: M@il Order Medicine; HEALTH Your LIFE INVESTIGATES MORE OF US ARE ORDERING MEDICINES ONLINE - BUT IT COULD COST US OUR HEALTH, OR EVEN OUR LIVES

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Byline: BY MADELEINE BAILEY

SIMPLY type a name into a search engine and in a few clicks you could be ordering a drug to help you lose weight or fight depression - without a prescription or consultation.

And it's becoming increasingly popular. Research released yesterday revealed tens of thousands of us are risking our health by buying medicine online.

Net security firm MarkMonitor showed the majority of the drugs are thought to be fake or out of date.

While it's illegal to sell prescription-only drugs in this way in the UK, the law doesn't apply to websites based abroad as long as it's for personal use. And drugs may often not be subject to the same rigorous controls.

Selling drugs is big business - a recent report by web analysts Envision estimated that there are around 2,300 sites worldwide selling prescription medicines to consumers. But doctors are concerned that this trend may have grave consequences.

Plus, if you make a purchase from a site abroad, you may have no legal recourse should the drugs turn out to be harmful.

And even if the drug is genuine, missing out on a consultation could mean that an underlying condition is overlooked or you end up with an unsuitable medication. Here are just a few of the dangers of buying drugs online...

VIAGRA

IT takes seconds to track down a choice of online pharmacies offering this. We order, no questions asked - pounds 38.95 for four tablets.

But skipping a visit to your GP could put your life at risk. "Erection problems may be the first symptom of a number of serious conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or cholesterol, prostate disease or several neurological conditions," says Dr Doniert Macfarlane of talktoadoctor.co.uk

And, if you're taking medication for a heart condition or have an undiagnosed one, Viagra could be fatal.

SLIMMING PILLS

A COUPLE of clicks and we're on to a site selling Clenbuterol, dubbed the "size zero pill" in the US.

The site is offering 200 tablets for pounds 119.98 and no consultation. But the drug is illegal in the UK because it's so dangerous. It raises temperature and heart rate in order to burn fat, leading to palpitations, breathing difficulties, an increased risk of stroke and permanent metabolism change. This means you could end up with an even worse weight problem in future.

Other available prescription-only diet drugs that are legal in the UK include appetite suppressants Acomplia and Reductil. These drugs shouldn't be taken by anyone with a body mass index of less than 27.

Even if a site insists you fill in a questionnaire, you don't need a prescription, so anyone can lie about their medical history and their size.

Dr Macfarlane explains: "Anyone weighing less than this who takes these drugs is putting themselves at risk of malnutrition and its associated health problems.

"All prescription-only slimming drugs require medical supervision." Also, some aren't suitable for people with anxiety, depression, eating disorders or a family history of heart problems.

VALIUM

"TIRED of troublesome thoughts? Take Valium!" says one website. "Purchase is cheap and available to any customer," it continues, offering 100 tablets for around pounds 77.50. It sounds like a simple solution to anxiety but Valium is a highly addictive drug.

Dr Macfarlane explains: "Doctors are reluctant to prescribe Valium these days as you need increasing amounts to achieve the same effect. It isn't suitable for long-term use and there are now less addictive alternatives."

Valium can sometimes cause anxiety and depression. Withdrawal symptoms range from irritability, nervousness and trouble sleeping to confusion, palpitations, depression, nausea, vomiting and even hallucinations. …