Pharmaceutical crime

A major threat to public health

Pharmaceutical crime involves the manufacture, trade and distribution of fake, stolen or illicit medicines and medical devices. It encompasses the counterfeiting and falsification of medical products, their packaging and associated documentation, as well as theft, fraud, illicit diversion, smuggling, trafficking, the illegal trade of medical products and the money laundering associated with it. 

We are seeing a significant increase in the manufacture, trade and distribution of counterfeit, stolen and illicit medicines and medical devices. Patients across the world put their health, even life, at risk by unknowingly consuming fake drugs or genuine drugs that have been doctored, badly stored or that have expired.

Illicit drugs can contain the wrong dose of active ingredient, or none at all, or a different ingredient. They are associated with a number of dangers and, at worst, can result in heart attack, coma or death.

The fight against counterfeit medicines is crucial in order to ensure the quality of products in circulation and to protect public health on a global scale.

The increasing prevalence of counterfeit and illicit goods has been compounded by the rise in Internet trade, where they can be bought easily, cheaply and without a prescription. It is impossible to quantify the extent of the problem, but in some areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America counterfeit medical goods can form up to 30% of the market.

The problem of organized crime

Organized criminal networks are attracted by the huge profits to be made through pharmaceutical crime. They operate across national borders in activities that include the import, export, manufacture and distribution of counterfeit and illicit medicines. Coordinated and cross-sector action on an international level is therefore vital in order to identify, investigate and prosecute the criminals behind these crimes.

An INTERPOL analytical report examines the links between pharmaceutical crime and organized crime. Download the public version of the report (published in July 2014).

INTERPOL's response

At INTERPOL, we are tackling this major problem in three main ways:

  • Coordinating operations in the field to disrupt transnational criminal networks;
  • Delivering training in order to build the skills and knowledge of all those agencies involved in the fight against pharmaceutical crime;
  • Building partnerships across a variety of sectors.

If you would like to get involved with our work, please contact us.

26 June 2015

INTERPOL Storm meeting looks to enhance investigative expertise in pharmaceutical crime

18 June 2015

INTERPOL-coordinated operation strikes at organized crime with seizure of 20 million illicit medicines

27 May 2015

INTERPOL initiatives look to boost fight against pharmaceutical crime in Mauritania

19 November 2014

Dublin conference aims to set roadmap for combating pharmaceutical crime

29 October 2014

Media invitation for Global INTERPOL Conference – Ten Years of Combating Pharmaceutical Crime: Review and Prospects

25 June 2014

Kuwait requests INTERPOL Purple Notice after fake car parts used to smuggle drugs

06 June 2014

Collective effort required to turn back pharmaceutical crime says INTERPOL Chief

22 May 2014

Thousands of illicit online pharmacies shut down in the largest-ever global operation targeting fake medicines

20 February 2014

Combating pharmaceutical crime requires strong collaboration, says INTERPOL Chief

16 December 2013

Addis Ababa declaration supports fight against fake medicines across Africa

16 October 2013

Enhancing collaboration focus of INTERPOL training on pharmaceutical crime

10 October 2013

INTERPOL operation against pharmaceutical crime nets almost 100 tonnes of illicit medicines

27 June 2013

International operation targets online sale of illicit medicines

28 May 2013

INTERPOL wins global award for ‘exceptional’ work in combating illicit trade and counterfeiting

12 March 2013

INTERPOL and pharmaceutical industry launch global initiative to combat fake medicines

04 October 2012

Global crackdown on illicit online pharmacies

Training course develops expertise in investigating pharmaceutical crime

07 October 2011

Operation Cobra in Western Africa combats pharmaceutical crime with INTERPOL support

29 September 2011

Global operation strikes at online supply of illegal and counterfeit medicines worldwide

09 June 2011

Collaboration between INTERPOL and Singapore’s health authority heralds milestone in fight against counterfeit medical products

Storm Enforcement Network- Operation Storm 2014 - Indonesia

Operation Pangea VIII

June 2015: Targeting the online sale of illicit medicines. More than 20 million units of illicit medicines seized, 550 illicit online adverts blocked and 2,400 illicit online pharmacies suspended.  

Read more about Pangea VIII

Pharmaceutical Industry Initiative to Combat Crime

In an agreement worth EUR 4.5 million over three years, 29 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have joined with INTERPOL to raise public awareness of the dangers of fake medicines, and to boost the law enforcement response.