The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced on June 18th that £15.8 million worth of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines and devices have been seized in the UK as part of a global operation.
The seizures – the biggest recorded to date in the UK – include huge quantities of illegally supplied and potentially harmful slimming pills, erectile dysfunction tablets, anaemia tablets and narcolepsy tablets. Unlicensed foreign medicines and fake condoms were also found and removed.
The seizures are a result of a month-long international crackdown on the illegal internet trade of medical products that yielded £51.6 million worth of items from 115 different countries globally.
The ‘Operation Pangea VIII’ initiative, coordinated through INTERPOL, concluded with a week of international raids between 9 and 16 June that resulted in 156 arrests worldwide.
The operation also targeted websites that were offering falsified, counterfeit and unlicensed medicines and led to their closure or suspension by removal of their domain name or payment facility.
In the UK, MHRA enforcement officers, with assistance from local police, raided known addresses in connection with the illegal internet supply of potentially harmful medicines.
It resulted in the domestic seizure of almost 6.2 million doses of falsified, counterfeit and unlicensed medicines, 15,000 of which were medical devices with a total value of £15.8 million. The UK operation also resulted in 1,380 websites being closed down, 339 of which were domestic sites.
MHRA Head of Enforcement, Alastair Jeffrey, said:
Operation Pangea is the global response to internet-facilitated medicines and devices crime. As a result of our intelligence-led enforcement operations we have seized £15.8 million worth of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines and 15,000 devices in the UK alone – which is almost twice as much as we recorded last year, and clear evidence that this is a growing concern that has to be taken seriously.
Criminals involved in the illegal supply of medical products through the internet aren’t interested in your health – they are interested in your money and are able to get this by selling you a potentially dangerous product, or by stealing your bank details. To protect your health, visit your GP, get a correct diagnosis and buy medicines from a legitimate high street or registered pharmacy which can trade online.
A breakdown of the UK seizures highlights the growing trend towards lifestyle medications and products that are unlicensed, falsified or controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
The majority of the products seized in UK originated from India, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.
MHRA has continued to target YouTube accounts and videos as criminals seek to exploit new channels to profit from the illegal sale of medicines – resulting in the removal of more than 320 videos.
Internationally, results show that almost 150,000 packages were inspected by regulators and customs officials, resulting in the seizure of over 20.7 million doses of unlicensed and counterfeit medicines worth approximately £51.6 million.
Alex Lawther, from Border Force’s postal command, added:
Border Force regularly detects and seizes illegal and restricted products imported through the postal system including fake and unlicensed medicines. Our involvement in this operation with the MHRA demonstrates our commitment to combat this form of smuggling.
Our message to the public is simple – don’t buy anything online unless you are certain it comes from a legitimate source.
If someone suspects their medicine may be counterfeit, contact the MHRA’s designated 24-hour anti-counterfeiting hotline on 020 3080 6701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Types of medicines seized include: epilepsy, asthma, acne, narcolepsy, breast cancer, cholesterol reduction, erectile dysfunction, analgesics, hair loss, weight loss, painkillers, fertility, breast/prostate cancer, anxiety/insomnia, skin lightening, anti-depressants, diabetes, premature ejaculation, tanning, pain management, anti-inflammatory, steroids, anti-viral, eye drops, bacterial infection, eczema, eyelash hair growth, depression, hormones, dental equipment, and fake condoms.
- Operation Pangea is an international initiative to target the illegal internet trade in medicines. It was instigated by MHRA in April 2006 and started as the UK Internet Day of Action (IDA).There were 115 countries participating in Op Pangea VIII. See Interpol’s website for more information the global operation.
- The annual operation is the largest internet-based enforcement action of its kind to date and was coordinated by INTERPOL, together with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), Europol and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), and supported by the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and private sector companies including LegitScript, Google, Mastercard, Visa, American Express and PayPal.
- Prescription-only medicine should only be taken in consultation with a GP or other healthcare professional. These people have access to patient health records and can take into account the risks and benefits associated with every medicine as well as providing on-going monitoring of the treatment.
- Further information about purchasing medicines safely online can be found on MHRA’s website.
- The General Pharmaceutical Council operates an internet pharmacy logo to help the public identify if a website is being operated by a bona fide pharmacy in Great Britain.
- Photography is available on request courtesy of Sky News, working exclusively with MHRA.
- MHRA is the government agency responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe. No product is risk-free. Our work is underpinned byrobust and fact-based judgements to ensure that the benefits to patients and the public justify the risks. We keep watch over medicines and devices, and take any necessary action to protect the public promptly if there is a problem. We encourage everyone – the public and healthcare professionals as well as the industry – to tell us about any problems with a medicine or medical device, to enable us to investigate and take any necessary action.