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19 November 2014

Dublin conference aims to set roadmap for combating pharmaceutical crime

DUBLIN, Ireland – A global conference attended by senior law enforcement officials from across the world as well as representatives from government, intergovernmental organizations and the pharmaceutical industry will review progress during the last 10 years and set the path for future activities to turn back pharmaceutical crime.

Organized by INTERPOL and hosted by the national police service of Ireland, An Garda Síochána, and Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), the two-day (19 and 20 November) event entitled ‘Ten Years of Combating Pharmaceutical Crime: Review and Prospects’ gathers almost 200 participants from some 50 countries and 17 international organizations.

The meeting will in particular review experiences, lessons learned, opportunities and constraints of international action against pharmaceutical crime. It will also seek to identify and recommend ways forward for strengthening international collaboration.

Speaking at the opening of the conference, Minister of State at Ireland’s Department of Justice and Equality, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, TD, said that in today’s society where modern technology can bypass traditional borders, the role played by INTERPOL in facilitating international cooperation remains crucial.

“The trade in fraudulent medicines and medical devices, which now involves so many different products be they lifestyle and/or lifesaving medicines or products, is without doubt a global problem presenting a significant public health risk,” stated Minister Ó Ríordáin. “No region or country is immune from this problem. Apart from the very real direct dangers presented by the consumption of fraudulent medicines or use of fake medical devices there is also evidence showing that the trade in such products has over time become an important source of income for organized crime groupings – be they informal networks or the more traditional organized crime groups.”

John O'Mahoney, Assistant Commissioner, An Garda Síochána said: “We are very pleased that Ireland has been chosen to host the first ever global conference on pharmaceutical crime. We welcome all our international partners here to focus on the work done and the best way to continue. Pharmaceutical crime is everybody's business and An Garda Síochána works closely with the HPRA Irish revenue's custom service, INTERPOL and all our international partnership in a collaborative way in order to prevent the legitimate market being compromised by unscrupulous criminals with profit as their only motive.”

Commenting, HPRA Director of Compliance, John Lynch, said, “The HPRA is very proud to co-host this unique global conference organized by INTERPOL in Dublin. We believe success in combating pharmaceutical crime comes through a combined response. This involves all of us working together internationally and, here in Ireland, working closely with our partners in An Garda Síochána and Revenue’s Customs Service. This level of national cooperation is critical as, while there is no doubt that pharmaceutical crime is international in its operation, it is local in its impact. This is evidenced by the fact that our combined efforts have resulted in consistently high levels of detentions of illegally supplied medicines in Ireland in recent years."

Welcoming collaborative efforts with An Garda Síochána and HPRA, INTERPOL Executive Director of Police Services Jean-Michel Louboutin said that while in the last decade increased international cooperation had been achieved to stem pharmaceutical crime, considerable challenges remain in this area.

“Pharmaceutical crime today threatens the lives of millions of people and undermines health systems worldwide,” said Mr Louboutin. “It is a form of crime which generates considerable profits linked to the importation, exportation, manufacture and distribution of illicit and counterfeit medical products.”

With counterfeit medical products in some regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America representing up to 30 per cent of the market, Mr Louboutin underlined the role played by INTERPOL’s global network and services in providing training and capacity building to police, customs, pharmaceutical authorities and independent organizations to address pharmaceutical crime.

The audience also heard how the world police body has coordinated a series of transnational operations codenamed Pangea to dismantle the criminal networks behind this form of crime.

Operation Pangea VII, conducted earlier this year, was the largest ever such operation, gathering 113 countries and almost 300 agencies to combat pharmaceutical crime. It led to the seizure of more than 9.6 million illicit tablets and to the closure of almost 12,000 illicit web sites, in addition to more than 430 arrests.

“One of the lessons learned from these operations is that international cooperation should be further strengthened if governments want to protect the health of their citizens and the credibility of their health services,” said Mr Louboutin.

INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services added that the role of police is also to educate citizens so they can protect themselves against the dangers posed by counterfeit drugs.

To this end, the conference heard that preventing crime is a key pillar of INTERPOL’s #TurnBackCrime awareness campaign which the world police body is undertaking across multiple communications channels and social networks.

Earlier this month, police chiefs and ministers at INTERPOL’s General Assembly in Monaco backed the campaign as a unique and innovative tool to engage the public, the police community and the private sector in a collective effort to prevent and fight crime. The campaign educates society about the ways in which organized crime infiltrates our daily lives, and assists the public in protecting themselves.

Aline Plançon, head of INTERPOL’s Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime unit, concluded: “Cooperation between law enforcement, health agencies, customs and the private sector has been key in the fight against pharmaceutical crime and will continue to be crucial to future success – nationally, regionally and globally.”