Latest Interpol-led Pangea op nets rogue pharmacies

A record 25 million illicit and counterfeit medicines, worth more than $51m, have been seized in a global crackdown.

Led by Interpol and involving 123 countries, the global effort – codenamed Operation Pangea X – targeted the illicit online sale of medicines and medical devices while also aiming to raise public awareness of the dangers associated with buying drugs online.

The operation, which took place between 12 and 19 September, resulted in 3,584 websites being taken down and more than 3,000 online adverts for illicit pharmaceuticals pulled. More than 1,000 investigations were launched and 400 people were also arrested as part of the operation.

Among the counterfeit drugs seized were painkillers, erectile dysfunction pills, epilepsy and anti-psychotic medication, as well as dietary supplements and nutritional products. Illicit dental devices and implants, condoms, syringes, medical testing strips and surgical equipment worth an estimated $500,000 were also seized. Meanwhile, 715,000 packages were inspected and 470,000 seized by customs and regulatory authorities.

Operation Pangea started 10 years ago with just eight countries working together to stamp out counterfeit drugs but has grown to involve police, customs and drug regulatory authorities from 123 countries.

During the decade of operations, the main trend that has been identified is the continuous growth of unauthorised and unregulated online pharmacies, which cater to consumer demand for the ease of accessing prescription drugs online, Interpol said. However, the vast majority of online pharmacies don’t require a prescription to order the medicines and most sell potentially dangerous bogus versions of the real drugs.

“With more and more people purchasing everyday items including medicines online, criminals are exploiting this trend to make a profit, putting lives at risk in the process,” said Tim Morris, Interpol’s executive director of police services. “The fact that we still see such strong outcomes after 10 years of Pangea operations demonstrates how the online sale of illicit medicines is an ongoing, and ever increasing, challenge for law enforcement and regulatory authorities.”

A particular target for this year’s operation was the illicit trade in opioid painkillers, especially fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. While available as a licensed painkiller, the powerful narcotic has been found added to counterfeit painkiller and anti-anxiety meds, which have flooded the US market, and is believed to have exacerbated the opioid epidemic in the country and contributed to thousands of overdoses and deaths in the past year.

As part of Operation Pangea X, seizures of fentanyl purchased from illicit online pharmacies occurred in several countries, with numerous websites exclusively selling the drug closed down, including one called ‘Where to buy fentanyl without a prescription’.

US Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said rogue online pharmacies were often run by sophisticated criminal networks that deceived the public and put individuals at risk. “The ease with which consumers can purchase opioid products online is especially concerning to me, given the immense public health crisis of addiction facing our country. Some of the websites sold unapproved versions of multiple prescription opioids directly to US consumers. This easy and illegal availability of these controlled substances fuels the misuse and abuse of opioids.”

This year’s operation also saw the highest participation of African countries, which have continually struggled with the problem of counterfeit medicines. The Democratic Republic of Congo, which participated in the operation for the first time, seized nearly 650kg of illicit anti-malaria pills.

“The sale of fake or counterfeit pharmaceuticals is a growing concern across Africa as it creates a dangerous situation for the health of unsuspecting consumers who trust that the products they purchase are safe to use,” said Immanuel Sam, head of the Interpol National Central Bureau in Namibia. “Global actions such as Operation Pangea X are critical to cutting off the supply of dangerous medicines and apprehending the criminals behind this deadly trade.”

Stand out actions as part of Operation Pangea X included the discovery of dangerous counterfeit contact lenses in Jordan, the seizure of 1.2 tonnes of erectile dysfunction pills in Vietnam, and €850,000 worth of fake Viagra, sedatives, steroids and antibiotics seized in Ireland, while the US Food and Drug Administration seized nearly 100 website domain names.

Last year’s Operation Pangea IX resulted in the seizure of $53m-worth of counterfeit medicines.

Related articles:

     Want our news sent directly to your inbox?

Yes please 2


Home  |  About us  |  Contact us  |  Advertise  |  Links  |  Partners  |  Privacy Policy  |   |  RSS feed   |  back to top