By Nadeem Badshah
BRITISH ASIANS suffering with insomnia during lockdown have been urged against buying sleeping pills online from south Asia.
Experts have warned of the potential health risks of buying prescription tablets, which have not been tested in the UK, from the internet. They have highlighted cases of people buying so-called Z drugs from websites, social media, or asking relatives in south Asia to post them the drugs.
One website based in India is selling 10 pills of Zopiclone – a prescription-only medication to treat severe insomnia – for `102 (about £1). The drug can be delivered to an Indian address in a few days
Another online pharmacy is selling a batch of 7.5mg Zopiclone tablets for between `220 (£2.16) and `235 (£2.30), while another website quoted a price of `79.50 (about 78p) for 10 pills.
Buying drugs without a prescription to treat insomnia is against the law, health experts have warned. Medication to treat the condition is usually prescribed for two to four weeks because of concerns about dependence and addiction.
About 40 per cent of Britons said they have regularly been losing sleep during lockdown due to stress and anxiety, according to an Ipsos Mori poll commissioned by King’s College London.
Professor Mahendra Patel, honorary visiting professor at the University of Bradford, told Eastern Eye: “It is worrying – the prescription pills on the internet and the risk of interacting with anything else a person is taking, so steer away (from them).
“I am concerned people will reach out to friends and family in India for sleeping tablets or antibiotics. This is something they should not be doing.
“Purchasing these drugs on the internet… you don’t know where they are coming from, the providence behind it and the regulation on safety and efficacy.
“It can be dangerous if it’s not from a regulated and bona fide source. We don’t know what is going into these products and the purity of what it says on the tin.”
New figures from government records for England and Wales, revealed there were 539 deaths from sleeping pills in 2019; among them 139 had alcohol in their system. This compares to 340 fatalities in 2009.
Deaths solely from insomnia drugs surged from 79 to 140 over the same period.
Addiction specialist Dr Robert Lefever said the number of people using sleeping pills has soared during lockdown.
He added: “These can be dangerous. They are mood-altering drugs and will affect anyone who has an addictive nature.
“It was a problem even before the pandemic, but the lockdown has definitely made it worse.
“People are highly stressed, they are not sleeping and they need a solution. They want a quick fix so take sleeping pills either prescribed by their GP or they buy online.”
Professor Patel, a senior member of the South Asian Health Foundation, added: “The legality side, is it safe, effective and legitimate? If you require sleeping pills, are there any underlying conditions that need treatment? Long-term sleeping tablet use could make you dependent.”
It comes after the British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently published experts’ letters warning against the misuse of sleeping pills and the ease of buying them online.
The trend has raised concerns of a black market online where people could potentially buy larger amounts of the Class C prescription medication.
WEDINOS, a harm reduction project run by Public Health Wales, tests drugs sent in anonymously. Its analysis of Zopiclone pills bought on the black market showed they contain caffeine, paracetamol and medication to treat worms.
Lynda Scammell, a senior enforcement advisor at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, told Eastern Eye: “A relevant Marketing Authorisation, a product licence, must be held to allow legal sale and supply of medicinal products in the UK.
“Breaches in medicines legislation are a criminal offence and we take appropriate action to remove products from the market and pursue those responsible.
“One of the risks of buying medicines from unregulated sources is that you just don’t know what you will receive and you could be risking your health.
“Most medicines offered from an illegally operating website are not authorised for use in UK – therefore there is no guarantee that they meet our safety and quality standards. The people behind these sites have no medical knowledge nor expertise and absolutely no interest in your health, just your money – so don’t be fooled.”
Labour MP Afzal Khan said: “I would encourage everyone to be sure that anything they take has been rigorously tested and passed all the British safety regulations.
“It is also vital when taking any medicines that people seek the appropriate medical advice.”
Meanwhile, an investigation by the BMJ in 2015 identified 37 websites selling Zopiclone tablets in quantities of up to 2,000. Thirty five also sold similar drugs and 15 offered bulk purchase discounts. Most online sellers provided information warnings about dosage, but 22 clearly stated that no prescription was necessary for purchase, while 14 made no mention at all.
Dr Sanjay Patel, medical director of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Comprehensive Sleep Disorders Program, has advised speaking to a doctor about an inability to easily fall asleep.
He said: “A lot of it has to do with getting back on a regular schedule.
“For a lot of us, our work schedule is taking over our lives. And we’re not having that downtime to enjoy life and to set aside time to sleep. Having somebody tell you that you should set those boundaries can motivate you to actually do it.”
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email [email protected]