Three probes into illegal drug sales by pharmacists

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionNine pharmacists accepted cash for prescription-only medicines

Pharmacies caught illegally selling addictive drugs to undercover reporters face three separate investigations - including a criminal probe.

Nine west London pharmacies sold drugs including Valium, Viagra, temazepam and morphine to BBC1's Inside Out.

Now both the Metropolitan Police and regulator the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) have requested evidence gathered by the programme.

Selling drugs without prescription has a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

An inspector at the Met's Drugs Directorate told the BBC: "It looks like you have evidence of criminality and obviously we need to look at that very closely.

"We would want to look at that as a matter of urgency."

Council contract suspended

The GPhC also requested the evidence. The organisation has the power to remove pharmacists' right to practise in Great Britain.

It admitted that prior to the BBC investigation it had only taken one pharmacist in England to a fitness to practise hearing for selling drugs without a prescription in 2012.

Meanwhile a third investigation is being launched jointly by Westminster Council and Inner North West London Primary Care Trust.

Westminster Council has said it is suspending its contract with one of the pharmacies involved.

The council had used Curie Pharmacy in Maida Vale to provide supervised methadone doses to drug addicts.

Undercover reporters were sold temazepam, Diazepam, Viagra and amoxicillin at the business - all without a prescription.

'Extremely disturbing'

Councillor Rachael Robathan, Westminster City Council's Cabinet Member for Adults, said: "The council has suspended its contract with Curie for services, such as controlled consumption by people on recovery programmes.

"We have launched an immediate investigation with Inner North West London Primary Care Trust of these extremely disturbing revelations."

Image caption This chemist advised the researcher to take whatever dose of morphine he wanted

Councillor Robathan continued: "The council expect that all pharmacies operate at all times within the law and the regulations governing them.

"The fitness to practise of this pharmacist and others identified will be a matter for our Primary Care Contracts Team."

A Westminster Council spokesman said its officers were also checking training standards were being met at the dozen pharmacies in its area which deliver local authority services.

He added: "This is in direct response to the revelations made by your report."

A spokeswoman for the trust said: "Clearly the accusations are very serious. We will follow our normal procedures and respond to any formal evidence or complaint that is forwarded to us."

Contacted on Tuesday about the latest developments, all the pharmacies involved declined to comment.

Several London pharmacies sold the reporters from the BBC's Inside Out programme diazepam or its trade name drug Valium - a strong and addictive sedative in the benzodiazepine family - for up to £85.

The BBC was acting on specific intelligence about the pharmacies.

Latest figures show 293 people died in the UK in 2011 from misuse of benzodiazepines, more than double the 125 killed by cocaine and ecstasy combined.

And for £200, Al Farabi Pharmacy in Paddington dispensed a bottle of Oramorph - containing morphine.

A standard NHS prescription would cost about £7.65.

'Shocked and appalled'

Over a few weeks, researchers bought 288 Valium tablets, 21 temazepam tablets, 294 amoxicillin tablets, 24 Viagra tablets and one bottle of Oramorph without prescriptions.

Neal Patel, spokesman for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: "I have been speaking to pharmacists and colleagues are absolutely shocked and appalled at the behaviour we've seen.

"The allegations are the most serious ones I can imagine - pharmacists I know pride themselves on patient safety and this is the antithesis of what we'd like pharmacists to be doing.

"I'm a pharmacist myself and watching this is very difficult for me."

The Labour Party continues to call for a fourth inquiry - into whether the pharmaceutical regulatory system is robust enough.

Shadow Health secretary Andy Burnham said: "The government should review again how pharmacy is regulated. For instance, there is a clear case for unannounced spot-checks to change the regulatory culture."

The Department of Health insists it takes abuse of prescription drugs seriously.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites