International operation combats online supply of counterfeit and illegal medicines

19 November 2009

An international week of action targeting the online sale of counterfeit and illicit medicines has resulted in a series of arrests and the seizure of thousands of potentially harmful medical products.

In response to an ever-increasing number of websites supplying dangerous and illegal medicines, Operation Pangea II involving 24 countries was co-ordinated by INTERPOL and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) to highlight the dangers of buying medicines online.

National medicines regulators, police and customs worked closely together on the global operation from 16-20 November, focusing on the three principle components used by an illegal website to conduct their trade - the Internet Service Provider (ISP), payment systems and the delivery service.

During the operation, Internet monitoring revealed 751 websites engaged in illegal activity, including offering controlled or prescription only drugs, 72 of which have now been taken down. In addition, more than 16,000 packages were inspected by regulators and customs, 995 packages were seized and nearly 167,000 illicit and counterfeit pills – including antibiotics, steroids and slimming pills, confiscated. A total of 22 individuals are currently under investigation for a range of offences including illegally selling and supplying unlicensed or prescription-only medicines.

“Our primary goal in Operation Pangea II is to protect the public by removing counterfeit and illicit medicines from the market, by shutting down those engaged in illegal sales on the web and by criminally prosecuting those potentially putting the lives of innocent consumers at risk by selling counterfeit or illicit medicines,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble.

Operation Pangea II increased participating countries over last year’s operation from 8 to 24 and added police and customs agencies to complement the work of the drug regulatory agencies.  In addition, this year’s effort devoted an entire week to the operation as opposed to the one day of action in 2008.

“As the very positive results of this global effort are made public, INTERPOL and its member countries will prove again that the Internet is not an anonymous safe haven for those who use it for criminal purposes.  We also hope that by raising public awareness about the dangers of illegal internet pharmacies, consumers will exercise greater care when purchasing medicines on the Internet,” added Secretary General Noble.

“Our thanks go to the police, customs and regulatory officials in the 24 participating countries as well as to our partner international organizations such as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) IMPACT, the World Customs Organization and Universal Postal Union whose tireless efforts and dedication have made Operation Pangea II such a success,” concluded the head of INTERPOL.

The operation was also run with significant support from the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC) the World Customs Organization, the UK’s Medicines and Health Care products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Health Canada.

Countries involved in Operation Pangea II were - Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, UK and the USA.

Investigations are continuing, with the final results from Operation Pangea II to be released upon their conclusion. For additional information on national activities, please contact the enforcement agencies of the countries concerned.