May 25th 2014
£8.6 million of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines have been seized in the UK as part of a week-long international crackdown on the illegal internet trade in medicines. The haul by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) included huge quantities of potentially harmful slimming pills and controlled drugs such as diazepam and anabolic steroids. The global haul amounted to around £18.6 million.
Operation Pangea VII was coordinated through Interpol and carried out between 11 May and 21 May. It resulted in 237 people being arrested worldwide and the closing or suspension of 10,603 websites illegally selling counterfeit and unlicensed medicines.
In this country, the MHRA was assisted by Home Office Border Force and local police, who raided a number of addresses. The operation resulted in the s,eizure of 3.6 million doses of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines, five arrests and the shutdown of 1,891 websites.
A breakdown of the UK seizures highlights the trend towards lifestyle medications that are unlicensed, adulterated or controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The most commonly seized drugs were: erectile dysfunction medicines (1.2 million doses), slimming products (383,000) and powerful and often misused drugs like sleeping pills, tranquilisers and antidepressants (330,996 doses). The majority of packages seized that contained medicines supplied illegally originated from India and China, with 72% and 11% of seizures originating from these countries respectively.
For the first time the MHRA targeted YouTube accounts and videos as criminals seek to exploit new channels to profit from the illegal sale of medicines. The regulator has removed 18,671 videos since last year’s operation and has seen an increase in the use of social media as the UK domain tree becomes a more hostile environment for criminals to operate in, due to a concerted effort cracking down on illegal activity on UK based websites.
Internationally, preliminary results show that more than 543,531 packages were inspected by regulators and customs officials resulting in the seizure of over 8,376,726 doses of unlicensed and counterfeit medicines worth approximately £18.6 million.
Alastair Jeffrey, MHRA Head of Enforcement, said: "Operation Pangea is the global response to internet facilitated medicines crime. During a week of action we have seized £8.6 million worth of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines, shut down 1,891 websites operating illegally and removed nearly 20,000 links to these sites that were supported by social media platforms." He continued: "We have conducted raids across the country, making five arrests. The medicines recovered during these raids were being held in appalling conditions, such as a dirty old building with broken windows, with medicines lying on the floor in bin bags. Criminals involved in the illegal supply of medicines through the internet aren’t interested in your health; they are interested in your money. Whether they get this through selling you a potentially dangerous counterfeit or unlicensed drug or through stealing your bank details. To protect your health, visit your GP, get a correct diagnosis and buy medicines from a legitimate high street or online pharmacy.”
Ria Baxendale, from Border Force’s postal command, said: “Our involvement in this joint operation demonstrates our commitment to tackling the smuggling of fake and unlicensed medicines. These goods can be dangerous and those who profit from this illegal trade are often involved in other forms of serious organised crime. My message to the public is simple – don’t buy anything online unless you’re certain it comes from a legitimate manufacturer.”
If you suspect your medicine may be counterfeit, contact the MHRA’s designated 24-hour anti-counterfeiting hotline on 020 3080 6701 or [email protected]