Social media targeted in latest Pangea fake pharma crackdown

Stuffed bear used to smuggle illicit medicinesThe latest instalment in the Pangea series of enforcement operations has resulted in the seizure of $36m-worth of illicit medicines.

This time the enforcement agencies cracking down on the trade - coordinated by Interpol - gave particular attention to social media channels as a means of advertising falsified and otherwise illegal medicines, and resulted in the takedown of more than 19,000 ads on channels such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as well as the closure of around 10,600 websites.

YouTube accounts used to promote illicit drugs were targeted for the first time this year "as criminals seek to exploit new channels to profit from the illegal sale of medicines," commented the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK.

"The MHRA has removed 18,671 videos since last year's operation and has seen an increase in the use of social media as the UK domain tree becomes a more hostile environment for criminals to operate in, due to a concerted effort cracking down on illegal activity on UK based websites," said the regulator in a statement.

The operation ran from May 13 to May 20 and resulted in the screening of more than half a million suspect packages, with 20,000 seized, and uncovered 9.4m fake and illicit medicines including slimming pills, cancer medication, erectile dysfunction pills, cough and cold medication, anti-malarial, cholesterol medication and nutritional products.

There were also 237 arrests, a massive advance on the 58 arrests made around a year ago when Pangea VI resulted in the seizure of almost 10 million drugs worth an estimated $41m.

The UK arm of the operation resulted in the seizure of 3.6m doses of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines, five arrests and the shutdown of 1,891 websites, according to the MHRA.

Other notable successes in Pangea VII included the dismantling of three production units for falsified medicines in Colombia, which in turn resulted in Interpol's Colombian unit the issuing the first "Purple Notices" - which seek or provide information on modi operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals - in relation to pharmaceutical crime.

"The results from Operation Pangea VII are not just about the seizures and arrests, but also about demonstrating the growing commitment from member countries in tackling these crimes, and their increasing expertise,” said Aline Plançon, head of Interpol's Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit.

The latest iteration of the clampdown involved 200 enforcement agencies from 111 countries, up from 100 a year earlier.

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