India source of half of Swiss illicit Rx med seizures last year

The Swiss medicines regulator Swissmedic seized just over 1,000 illegally imported medical drugs last year, with nearly half of all shipments originating from India.

India is a major hub for the manufacturing of cheaper, off-patent generic drugs, but has always insisted it has a very low rate of counterfeiting – even if its assessment is disputed. The national drug industry has in the past accused producers in China and elsewhere of pretending their fake products originate from India – which supplies vast quantities of generic drugs around the world.

"Nearly half of all shipments originated from India," Swissmedic says in a statement about last year's illegal prescription drug imports to the country. In all, it found 1,028 shipments of illegally imported therapeutic products in 2016, slightly less than the 1,134 it seized back in 2015.

"Potency preparations remain at the top of the list of illegally imported substances, followed by medicines with the potential for dependence (psychotropic agents, sleeping tablets and tranquillisers) and other medically important drugs," the regulator said.

The Swiss agency reminds consumers that using prescription-only medicines bought illegally and without a doctor's supervision and knowledge is highly dangerous.

What particularly worried Swissmedic was the number of impounded meds for acne, which, though still small, rose last year. Its active ingredient isotretinoin can harm unborn children and should never be used during pregnancy, but those buying the drugs may not be made aware of this.

One of the main ways these meds are getting sold in the country is through spam emails, directing consumers to what appears to be a serious online shop selling 'generic products at advantageous prices,' but of course is no such thing.

The regulator also warns that some of the drugs "have serious quality defects and arrive without a carton or package insert, which means that there are absolutely no warnings about side effects and precautions or information about the correct dosage."

The dosage can also be too high or too low, which could kill patients who require an exact level of an active ingredient, such as with blood thinners, or sleeping tablets.

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