Health on the Net Special: Your healthy options on the Net

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The Independent Culture
SELLING PHARMACEUTICALS is a heavily legislated business, but with different countries setting their own standards it is almost impossible to regulate theflow of prescription drugs across the Internet. The dangers are obvious - lack of professional medical advice can lead to incorrect dosage. The benefits of circumventing official watchdogs are few. The following products, all currently banned in the UK, are available at a browser near you.

VIAGRA, MUCH vaunted in the tabloid press, gained approval from the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) early this year. Trials in Britain of this impotency remedy continue with an expected release in August. However, anyone incapable of waiting can order direct from American Web sites. Some sites in the UK already offer a "pass-through" service where the drug is ordered from American pharmacies and mailed directly to British citizens.

THE MODERN appetite for "diet pills" is insatiable and nowhere more so than in America. Diet pills such as Sibutramine and Orlistat are freely available on the Internet as soon as they get approval from the FDA, whether or not they have the endorsement in other countries. Alarmingly, despite the extensive withdrawal from shelves of Ponderax and Adifax, these two drugs are available online. While some Internet pharmacies state they will only deliver to customers with authentic prescriptions, retailers in Fiji and Japan are less scrupulous. These two curatives for major weight problems are suspected of having damaging effects on the heart. Only two years ago they had American home-makers gushing "now I leave food on my plate". Now they are both available for online credit card orders.

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DIMETHYL SULFOXIDE, the long-standing wonder drug that claims to cure everything from tennis elbow to spinal cord injuries, has never received approval from any official medical advisory committee. However, over several years it has gained such black market popularity that it is already assured a wealth of online outlets.

RETAILERS OF body-building supplements who are unlikely to make it through rigorous trials in some countries can instead do business in countries with more relaxed regimes. Thousands of Web sites now exist to sell dietary supplements and power-building steroids. Many highlight "international orders" as being particularly welcome.

If you are in any doubt about the official British status on a particular drug, you can contact the British Medicines Control Agency at www.open.gov.uk/mca/mcahome.htm

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"MIRACLE DRUGS" for baldness and fat depletion, such as Propecia and Xenical, now await entry to markets outside America. Currently on trial in Australia and Britain, their availability online means anyone can bypass local legislation and order direct. Meanwhile, links between Xenical and breast cancer are still being investigated.

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