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International operation combats the illegal online supply of counterfeit medicines
Press release from the; UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency
Forty-five countries across the globe have taken part in an international enforcement operation targeting the online sale of counterfeit and illegal medicines to raise awareness of the dangers of buying medicines online.
Operation Pangea III ran between 5 – 12 October and resulted in 76 people either arrested or placed under investigation across the globe.
The operation is the largest internet-based enforcement action of its kind to date and involved IMPACT, the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC) and the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (HMA WGEO).
Coordinated by INTERPOL and carried out with the assistance of police, customs and national medicines regulators, the global operation targeted the three main components abused in the illegal website trade – the Internet Service Provider (ISP), the electronic payment system and the delivery service.
Internationally, 267,855 packages were inspected by regulators and customs resulting in the seizure of 1,014,043 illicit and counterfeit pills worth an estimated £1.62 million ($2,598,163 (US)).
During the operation, internet monitoring revealed 694 websites potentially engaged in illegal activity including offering controlled or Prescription Only Drugs.
The public will be advised through global awareness campaigns that purchasing medicines from unregulated websites significantly increases the risks of obtaining counterfeit, sub-standard and dangerous products.
The types of medicines the MHRA found included those for erectile dysfunction, weight loss, pain relief, human growth hormone, antidepressants and steroids.
MHRA Head of Enforcement, Mick Deats, said that what often looked like a professional online pharmacy could turn out to be an illicit website selling fake or illegal medication.
“These websites often look like the real deal, but if they don’t carry the internet pharmacy logo of the General Pharmaceutical Council and have a ‘bricks and mortar’ address, then they are often dealing illegally.
“This week we have recovered a range of different medicines being supplied with no prescription and stored in unacceptable conditions by persons unqualified to dispense medicines. An illegal supplier might be good at setting up a website, but that does not make them a pharmacist.
“The dangers of purchasing medicines from an unregulated source are that you just don’t know what you are taking,” he said. “The dosages could be either too high or too low, contain no pharmaceutical ingredient or a totally different ingredient to that stated.
“Illegal suppliers have no quality control or standards to abide by and people who purchase medicine from these sources will never know where the tablets they are putting in their mouths have actually originated from or what they contain. If customers could see the filthy conditions in which some of these medicines were being transported, stored and handled, they wouldn’t touch them,” he added.
“This international operation is the best way to deal with an international problem and is a great example of the collaboration needed to tackle this type of crime.
“Partnering with law enforcement as well as working with industry, payment providers and other stakeholders has proved to be a successful approach in disrupting criminal activity while raising public awareness to this issue.
“We will continue to use all powers at our disposal to take action against those engaged in this illicit activity and confiscate the proceeds of their crimes.”
Further information about purchasing medicines safely online can be found on the MHRA website: Risks of buying medicines over the internet