Medicines: Why are some not available in the UK?


Many of my friends and colleagues, when on holiday, buy "over the counter" medicines not available in the UK - mainly Tylenol and melatonin. Why are these not available in the UK? Is it legal to bring back large quantities for distribution to friends and family?

Dr Fred Kavalier answers your health question:

Tylenol is a US trade name for paracetamol. Paracetamol is available over the counter in the UK, so it would be silly to import Tylenol. Melatonin was available from health-food shops in the UK before 1995, but it was banned from general sale on the grounds that it was a medicinal product (previously, it was considered a nutritional supplement). It is not available from pharmacies because it does not have a licence for sale as a medicine. People use melatonin to overcome jet lag. It's supposed to work by resetting the body's time-clock, tricking the brain into thinking it is night when the body still thinks it is daytime. You can buy melatonin on the internet, and abroad. It is not illegal to bring it back and not illegal to possess it. But you would be breaking the law if you imported large quantities for distribution or sale, because you would be selling or supplying an unlicensed medicinal product

Please mail your questions for Dr Fred to health@independent.co.uk. He regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.

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