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.

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.

Fact sheet

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