IMPACT, Interpol operation clamps down on illegal websites

wired planet 2Enforcement officers from the Food and Drug Administration and other international regulatory agencies have carried out a week-long operation intended to curb the activities of websites peddling illegal medicines.

The Pangea II operation - coordinated by Interpol and the World Health Organization-backed IMPACT group - follows on from a similar one-day operation carried out a year ago.

A total of 24 different countries took part in the action. In the USA, the FDA said it targeted 136 websites that "appeared to be engaged in the illegal sale of unapproved or misbranded drugs to US consumers." 

France's regulatory body (AFSSAPS) said it had identified 125 sites and had already made a number of arrests in connection with their activities.

Internationally, more than 16,000 packages were inspected by regulators and customs resulting in the seizure of nearly 167,000 illicit and counterfeit pills, according to the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

During the operation, Internet monitoring revealed 751 websites to be engaged in illegal activity including offering controlled or prescription only drugs. In the UK three arrests were made, six websites have been closed down and £300,000 worth ($497,000) of illicit medicines were seized, as well as quantities of controlled drugs.

"This week we have recovered a range of different medicines that were being supplied with no prescription and stored in unacceptable conditions by persons unqualified to dispense medicines," said Mick Deats, MHRA Head of Enforcement.

The aims of the operation were to raise public awareness about the dangers of buying medicines over the Internet, identifying the people behind this illegal trade and bringing civil or criminal actions against them, and removing counterfeit and illegal products from the supply chain.

The FDA said its operatives worked alongside US Customs, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Postal Inspection Service to seize shipments of illegal medicines passing through international mail facilities and courier hubs.

The US operation led to 22 warning letters being issued to website operators. Notifications were also sent to Internet service providers and domain name registrars that the sites were being used to sell products in violation of US law.

"Because of these violations, ISPs and domain name registrars may have grounds to terminate the websites and suspend the use of domain names," said the agency in a statement.

FDA Commissioner Peggy Hamburg said that "many US consumers are being misled in the hopes of saving money by purchasing prescription drugs over the Internet from illegal pharmacies."

"Unfortunately, these drugs are often counterfeit, contaminated, or unapproved products, or contain an inconsistent amount of the active ingredient," she added.

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