Pangea IV nets illegal medicines worth around $6.3m

Pangea IV at a glanceThe latest Interpol-backed operation to fight the trade in counterfeit and otherwise illegal medicines has led to dozens of arrests and the seizure of some 2.4m potentially harmful drugs with a value of $6.3m.

Operation Pangea IV targeted the online supply of illegal medicines and was carried out between September 20 and 27 by Interpol, the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) and police, customs and national medicines regulatory agencies.

Once again the scale of the operation was increased, with 81 countries taking part in the operation with the help of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), payment systems providers and delivery services. Last year's offensive netted around 1m suspect medicines worth $2.6m.

The aim of Pangea IV was to "disrupt the online criminal networks and activities connected with the selling of fake medicines online, such as credit card fraud, and to raise public awareness of the health risks linked to purchasing medicines online," said Interpol in a statement.

The operatives launched a three-pronged attack on the trade, zeroing in on ISPs, electronic payment systems and delivery services in order to trace online medicine purchases back through the supply channels to those offering the medicines for sale and supplying the fakes.

All told, 13,500 websites engaged in illegal activity were shut down, 45,500 packages were inspected by regulators and customs authorities, 8,000 packages were seized and 2.4m individual doses were confiscated. 48 different countries were identified as the source of the haul, which included antibiotics, steroids, anti-cancer, anti-depression and anti-epileptic pills, as well as slimming or food supplements.

Meanwhile, some 55 individuals are currently under investigation or arrest as a result of the operation for a range of offences, including illegally manufacturing, selling and supplying unlicensed or prescription-only medicines.

"We cannot halt the illicit online supply of medicines without a consistent, constant and collective international effort involving all sectors," commented Aline Plancon, the manager of Interpol's Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit.

"Ultimately, we hope that by raising public awareness about the dangers of illegal Internet pharmacies, people will exercise greater care when purchasing medicines on the Internet," she added.

Nimmo Ahmed, acting head of enforcement at the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said that the UK regulator alone was involved in seizures of illegal medicines worth £2m ($3.1m), including 52,000 doses of counterfeit pills, and 13 arrests.

"This week we have recovered a range of medicines being supplied without prescriptions and stored in unacceptable conditions by people who are not qualified to dispense medicines," he said.

"When you buy medicines from an unregulated source you don't know what you’re getting, where it came from or if it's safe to take."

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