Fakes make up half of trafficked drugs in 2018 EU op

Europol says law enforcement seized 13 million doses of illegally trafficked medicines worth more than €165m ($185m) last year.

The haul came from a seven-month operation involving authorities from 16 European countries – called MISMED 2 – and led to 435 arrests, disrupted 24 organised crime groups, and resulted in the seizure of €3.2m in criminal assets.

All told, 1.8 tons of medicines were intercepted, with more than deemed to be falsified after inspection. The illegally trafficked medicines included opioid painkillers but also treatments for heart disease and cancer, as well as performance-enhancing drugs.

The first MISMED operation was reported at the end of 2017 and led to the seizure of 75 million doses of medicine, worth around €230m, and 100 arrests. This time around the number of countries participating in the operation swelled from nine to 16.

Concerns have been growing in many European countries about increasing misuse of medicines, particularly in the light of large increases in deaths from prescription opioid analgesics in the US.

“Organised crime groups are increasingly turning to this crime area as it provides very high profits for perpetrators and relatively low risks regarding detection and criminal penalties,” said Europol in a statement.

“The number of falsified/counterfeit products being trafficked is also on the rise, as shown by the number of such products seized in this year’s edition of MISMED, accounting for over half of the 13 million units seized.”

While the safety features mandated by the EU Falsified Medicines Directive can help prevent these trafficked medicines ending up in the legitimate supply chain, most are destined for distribution through illicit channels, particularly online, where these protections will not apply.

Enforcement operations such as these are therefore critical to taking potentially harmful medicines out of circulation and disrupting the criminal networks that are involved in supplying them.

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