The Department of Health (DoH) has revealed the seizure of tens of thousands of illegally imported and unauthorised medicines in Northern Ireland during INTERPOL’s coordinated international operation, known as Operation Pangea X.
The operation which took place between 12 – 19 September 2017 involved over 120 countries world-wide and aimed to disrupt the illicit online sale and importation of illegal medicines as well as raising awareness of the significant health risks associated with buying medicines online from illegal websites, or in response to advertisements on social media platforms.
A dedicated operations centre at INTERPOL’s General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, served as the central hub for information exchange among the participating countries and agencies.
Coordinated activities involving the Department’s Medicines Regulatory Group (MRG), working with key stakeholder agencies including Police and Border Force resulted in the seizure of multiple packages destined for addresses throughout Northern Ireland. Over 50,000 illegal and unauthorised tablets and injectables including anabolic steroids, human growth hormones, diazepam, pregabalin and, tramadol. Other medicinal products including erectile dysfunction tablets were also detained. The seized medicines are worth over £100,000 on the black market. Resulting multiple follow-up investigations are ongoing.
Head of the Medicines Regulatory Group, Professor Mike Mawhinney said: “The risk to the public due to illegal or counterfeit medicines is very real. This problem is not something the Department can tackle alone and we are therefore committed to working with other agencies to stop the supply of illegal medicines over the internet.
“This is the tenth year that Operation Pangea has taken place and has again involved the coordinated efforts of a number of agencies primarily the police service and DoH Medicines Regulatory Group enforcement officers, who will continue to be diligent all year round in their efforts and are determined to combat this serious problem.”
Peter Moore, the Senior Medicines Enforcement Officer with DoH who coordinated the operation in Northern Ireland said: “Participation in this operation is part of our continuing efforts to reduce the harm that can be caused to the Northern Ireland public, by those making use of the internet to commit crime or source their medicines. The operation has shown that the illicit medicines recovered were destined for addresses throughout Northern Ireland leaving none of our communities immune from the dangers presented by drugs like these. We urge the public not to be tempted by what look like cut prices or fooled by professional looking websites offering medicines without prescription. Taking short cuts and using these medicines could expose you to a dangerous counterfeit or substandard medicine and, additionally, you could also be the victim of identity theft or credit card fraud.”
“The type of collaborative work well demonstrated by Operation Pangea, has led to the interception and seizure of many illegal medicines which would otherwise have ended up in general circulation. The truth is that this might very well save lives, as sadly, young people are often unaware of the potentially fatal consequences of taking these unprescribed drugs, particularly when taken with alcohol.”
Professor Mawhinney added: “People should take prescription only medicines in consultation with their GP, pharmacist or other healthcare professionals who have access to patient health records and can take into account the risks and benefits associated with every medicine. Medicines obtained through unregulated internet sites may not have been prescribed by a healthcare practitioner, may not have been subject to the normal controls on manufacture and may not be of a suitable quality or be of the nature described.”
Global results from Operation Pangea X include:
123 countries participated
400 persons arrested under investigation worldwide
seizure of over 25 million potentially life-threatening medicines worth an estimated USD 51 million (approximately £38 million)
3584 websites identified as being engaged in illegal activity were shut down
Over 3,000 online adverts for illicit pharmaceuticals suspended
Further information on the risks of buying medicines online can be found at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/risks-buying-medicines-over-internet