Some patients, struggling to find certain medicines in France, may be tempted to take a chance on ordering from attractive websites, despite the risk.
Experts say there is a one in two chance that medicines bought from overseas sites will be fake.
Online French pharmacies can sell only over-the-counter medicines, such as paracetamol.
However, other medicines which can be obtained in France only with a prescription can be ordered on international websites.
Yann Mazens, of national patients’ association France Assos Santé, said: “There is a whole international medicine trafficking industry with few controls.
“We can buy anything without a prescription on a foreign website. Then, there is a risk that the drug will be fake.
“Shortages have stimulated this market, which increases the risks for patients’ health.”
In the last 10 years, shortages of medicines in France have increased tenfold, with 538 drugs on “stock alert” in 2017, compared with 44 in 2008.
Many of the drugs at risk of being out of stock are vital treatments for cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s and high blood pressure, as well as vaccines.
France Assos Santé previously said that 14% of patients suffer a deterioration in health as a result of medicine shortages.
For patients who cannot access the drugs they need, it is best to go to another pharmacy.
The website of the national agency for French medicines, the Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament et des Produits de Santé (ansm.sante.fr), provides a list of which pharmacies have the medicine you are looking for.
If the treatment is not available for a long time, see your GP for alternative treatment.
The Ministry of Health announced a plan in July to manage stocks better, including better communication between pharmacies and labs and better cooperation on the European level, notably on purchases of vaccines.