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Home / News / My journey into Ireland’s underground botox supply chain

My journey into Ireland’s underground botox supply chain

Pamela Fraher has spent six months investigating products and practices used within Ireland’s beauty industry. Ahead of the broadcast of her undercover investigation on Monday night, she details some of what she saw while researching Ireland’s underground botox and beauty supply chain.

In the build-up to placing an order of botox, amongst other items, my UK-based “prescriber” had left a voicemail explaining why he uses delivery points near the border.

“You can personally go to Newry and pick them up, and that way it doesn’t go through customs,” he said, in an audio message sent over Whatsapp.

“That’s it. End of story. You don’t have to pay duty because you put them in your bag and drive right across the border… no customs, no police there or nothing,” he added.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority state that only doctors, dentists and registered nurses under the direction of medical doctors or dentists are permitted to inject botox. A special licence is required to sell prescription only medicines.

I am not a doctor or a dentist, nor do I hold a specific licence. I am not even ‘Jen’ the salon-owner working in the beauty industry – as my ‘prescriber’ thought – either.

I was working for RTÉ Investigates, wearing a secret camera, meeting people working in – and supplying – beauty businesses across Ireland.

Months into the investigation, I had arrived at this point in my journey- a busy shop across the border, discreetly asking the girl behind the till if can I speak to either of the two names I was given by the “prescriber”.

She replied asking if I am ‘Jen’. I said yes, and in less than a minute, I was back out the door with my supplies.

Once out of sight, I opened the package. Inside, there were bottles of Botulinum Toxin – better known as Botox. I was also sold fat dissolving agents and dermal filler.

Unlicensed botox obtained by RTÉ Investigates

Botox is a prescription-only medicinal product, and subject to strict regulations under law. Yet, it was clear to RTÉ Investigates that people were circumventing those laws in a few clicks.

Over the previous weeks and months, we had been directed to and found Facebook groups where people working in the beauty industry across Ireland were actively “seeking a prescriber.”

A particularly-active London-based man was publicly replying to users offering to help, so we sent him a Facebook message.

He sent on his number and asked to move to WhatsApp. Within 15 minutes, we had a list of botulinum toxin products with prices attached.

I placed my order, and he said they could be collected in Newry. If I wasn’t planning to go to Newry, another client of his in Dublin could collect it for me, he said.

This ‘client’ is a beauty salon owner. Initially, I said I’d pay her in cash, and I’d go across the border for further orders.

Within days, my first order was in Dublin. I went to her salon, there were no questions asked and the deal was done in less than five minutes.

The product I bought is not even licensed for use in Ireland.

RTÉ Investigates found several active Facebook groups

“It’s like pay and collect is for a pizza, isn’t it?” said Dr Eithne Brenner on seeing the undercover footage.

“Coming in illegally from another country with no care about who it’s intended for, who’s going to administer it. Could it be given to somebody pregnant and have disastrous consequences? We don’t know. It’s just a terrible situation, isn’t it?” she added.

I wanted to know more about the London-based man’s clients in Ireland. He agreed to a WhatsApp video call. In RTÉ, we designed a room to look like a salon, and recorded the call.

He told me about how he supplies clients all across the Republic of Ireland through the collection point near the border.

“I have a lady … she sends the husband up because she is buying such a lot from me. She’s buying, like, £4000 or £5000 worth of stuff every month.”

The ‘prescriber’ knew I was not a dentist or a doctor. In fact, my only qualification related to the beauty industry is a certificate purchased from an online academy for €110.

Proudly displayed in my ‘salon,’ and on it’s newly-established Facebook page, it said I had “successfully completed the course botox.”

That certificate was all my ‘prescriber’ said he needed to see before doing the deal with me, and send me unlicensed medicinal products to inject into my prospective clients.

“It’s just so wrong.” said Kathy Maher, former president of the Irish Pharmacy Union, on seeing some of the footage.

“Everything from he’s not a prescriber to how he obtains the product. It’s an unlicensed product. We don’t know what’s in it, we don’t know the standards by which it’s manufactured, we don’t know the dose, we don’t know anything about it,” she said.

“And then how he’s supplying it into the Irish supply chain is really shocking. He doesn’t have a wholesale licence, so he’s not legally allowed to supply it into Ireland… there’s no regard given to the end user, which is the patient.”

Watch: Early clips fromRTÉ Investigates: Botox & Beauty At Any Cost’

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Once I’d discovered the way unlicensed types of botox entered the country, it became clear there was wider issues within the beauty industry.

I had found a business supply chain for my newly-established beauty salon. My “prescriber” said he was sending 40-50 parcels every week into Ireland. He was looking for faster and faster ways of doing it.

It was clear to me, within weeks, I could have enough products of varying types to ‘open’ ‘Jen’s Aesthetics’.

Watch ‘RTÉ Investigates: Botox & Beauty At Any Cost’ from Pamela Fraher and Philip Gallagher on RTÉ One television at 9.35pm on Monday.

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