An orchestrated raid in ten countries has led to the arrest of several individuals behind online pharmacies that illegally sell unlicensed or prescription-only medicines. Dozens of residential and commercial addresses in Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, the UK and the USA were searched by investigators and countless counterfeit drugs were seized, including those purported to treat conditions such as diabetes, impotency, obesity, hair loss and the side effects of steroid abuse.
The operation, codenamed Pangea, was undertaken by the international police agency Interpol, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT), and the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime.
Federal agencies in the US conducted an intensive one-day inspection of international mail in Dallas, Chicago, Seattle and New York. In total approximately 635 international mail parcels were examined and 18 containing counterfeit Viagra, Cialis, steroids and Xanax were seized.
In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency visited 12 residential and commercial addresses relating to seven websites thought to be selling unlicensed agents or prescription-only medicines. Over a thousand packs of pharmaceuticals were seized, as well as several computers and reams of documentation.
Over 50% of medicines bought from illegal websites that conceal their physical address are counterfeit – i.e. they are deliberately mislabelled with respect to their identity or source. The quality of such drugs is unpredictable, as many contain the wrong amount of active ingredients, wrong ingredients or no active ingredients at all.
Jean-Michel Louboutin, Executive Director of Interpol’s Police Services, said, “Buying medicines from illegal and unregulated websites poses significant risks, not least that the buyer is putting their health in danger by taking drugs which have no guarantee of safety, quality or effectiveness”.
- For more information on counterfeit drugs, have a read of the FDA’s Q&A sheet