EXCLUSIVE: Now dark web dealers are cashing in on the HRT crisis: lifesaving treatments are being sold at FOUR times the NHS price
- Women desperate for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the UK are being charged four times the price they would pay on the NHS from dark web providers
- Unauthorized sellers based in Russia, Thailand and Brazil are exploiting the crisis
- Experts have also raised concerns about products that may be counterfeits
Online traders are cashing in on HRT shortages by selling life-saving treatments on the ‘dark web’, analysis reveals.
Unauthorized sellers based in Russia, Thailand and Brazil are taking advantage of the UK’s HRT crisis by advertising crucial products at up to four times the price of an NHS prescription.
Research commissioned by the Daily Mail reveals that a month’s supply of Estrogel, which many women are desperate to get their hands on, is available on a hidden collective of internet sites.
A single NHS prescription for an HRT costs £9.35. However, Russian sellers advertise the equivalent – an 80g tube – at £37.65, and Thai retailers offer it for £19.05.
The analysis also revealed that there are nine different options for buying Estrogel on the dark web, with the majority of products being sold from Thailand. The cheapest option costs twice as much as an NHS prescription.
Rogue sellers based in Russia, Thailand and Brazil are taking advantage of 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 find themselves in.
Meanwhile, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said it was “dismayed” that HRT had now ended up on the dark web – sites accessed through specific software, where crimes including the trade in illegal drugs and ammunition , are commonplace.
Although it is not illegal to obtain HRT in this way, those who access it will not have been assessed by a medical professional and can simply order it from 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 problem is that when people are desperate they turn to alternative sources.
“You can almost guarantee that if something is missing, there will be [traders] offer online to sell it.
‘There is no situation [they] won’t exploit – including when people need life-changing drugs. The problem is that you are dealing with an anonymous group that is unaccountable.
“Therefore, you don’t know if what you receive is what you ordered or if you will receive anything. Worse still, it could be a substance that could seriously harm you.
Dee Murray, chief executive and founder of the Menopause Experts group, said: ‘The shortage of HRT is causing stress and potential harm to women, with some pushed to take matters into their own hands and seek supplies online.
“Dark web resellers are taking advantage of the shortage of HRT treatments by preying on the desperate, who have no guarantee of what will actually arrive in the mail.
These sellers exist outside the law in an unregulated underworld where there is no return for buyers who don’t get what they paid for or, worse, are exposed to harmful chemicals and fake drugs.
She added: “Buying drugs on the dark web or through any unauthorized seller is inherently risky and potentially very dangerous. HRT should only be prescribed by qualified healthcare professionals who understand the patient’s story.
Medicines from unregulated websites are more likely to be low quality illegal counterfeits and can endanger a patient’s health
Diane Danzebrink, founder of the Menopause Support website, said she was “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 authorized and regulated alternative product for short-term use’.
The Mail has campaigned to solve 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, from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “We are appalled that women are being put in a position where they feel they have to source medicines from the dark web.
“Medicines from unregulated websites are more likely to be low quality, illegal counterfeits and can endanger a patient’s health. We hope the new HRT working group will help solve the problem of HRT shortages.