YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia – A multi-country police operation targeting the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit medicines in Southeast Asia has resulted in more than 30 arrests and the seizure of 20 million fake and illegal medicines, including antibiotics, anti-malarial and birth control medicines, anti-tetanus serums, Aspirin and erectile dysfunction drugs. It also led to the closure of more than 100 pharmacies and illicit drug outlets.
Under the framework of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Medical Products Anti-counterfeiting Task Force (IMPACT), Operation Storm II (July-November 2009) was co-ordinated by INTERPOL and supported by the Western Pacific Regional Office (WPRO) of WHO. It provided a platform for collaboration between national police, customs and drug regulatory authorities from eight countries (Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), as well as with international organizations and the private sector.
Targeted and co-ordinated actions led to at least 33 arrests, and to the closure of more than 100 pharmacies and illegal drug outlets. Over 12 million pills of counterfeit medicines and medical products such as pills, bottles, sachets were seized, as were nearly 8 millions pills of other illegal medicines (expired, not registered or diverted medical products). Forensic investigations were carried out with support from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority and from the Counterfeit Drug Forensic Investigation Network (CODFIN), a laboratory network funded by the Gates Foundation.
“I would like to extend my congratulations to the participating countries whose commitment ensured the success of Operation Storm II to tackle the threat posed to all citizens by counterfeit medicines,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble. “It shows that collaboration involving public and private sector partnerships and joint international action is crucial if we are to significantly disrupt the trade in counterfeit medicines.”
With the decision by the participating countries to create a “Storm Network” in the region in collaboration with WPRO to improve and shape joint anti-counterfeit actions on an on-going basis, Mr Noble added that “This collaborative response is all the more important when globalization and modern technology mean that the methods of producing and distributing counterfeit medicines cut across borders and are developing and increasing, thereby posing an increased threat to people's health and lives.”
The final debriefing of the operation was followed up in Jakarta with a training course (25-26 January) delivered by INTERPOL-IMPACT and with inputs from the private sector, involving over 40 Indonesian police, customs, regulators and representatives from the justice department.
“The problem of counterfeit medical Products should be managed beyond health sectors, as it is a criminal action requiring the involvement of all parties involved in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) such as police, justice, customs and national regulatory authorities,” said Dra Kustantinah, the head of Indonesia’s National Agency for Drug and Food Control at the opening ceremony of the training course.
The results of Operation Storm II came as INTERPOL announced the creation of a new component, the Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit, tasked primarily with supporting the WHO-IMPACT programme and the fight against other pharmaceutical crimes, including the online sale of counterfeit medicines.
The head of the new unit, Aline Plançon, also co-chair of the INTERPOL-IMPACT enforcement efforts said MPCPC represented a step forward in international efforts “to harness cohesive and combined global efforts to dismantle the transnational criminal networks behind the plague of counterfeit medicines”.