Swissmedic sees 'sharp increase' in illegal medicine imports

keyboard numbersSwitzerland's medicines regulatory agency Swissmedic said that there was a 'sharp increase' in illegal medicine imports in 2010, with an almost threefold increase in reported incidents since 2008.

There were 1,861 seizures of medicine shipments in 2010, up 61 per cent over the 1,154 cases in 2009, and triple 2008's tally of 687, with Internet orders once again accounting for the bulk of the traffic.

The majority (93 per cent) of the seizures led to administrative procedures and financial penalties for those involved in the shipment, and 81 per cent were destroyed as a result of the enforcement action "for health safety reasons," says Swissmedic.

Where the intention was to resell goods that were potentially hazardous the agency also initiated criminal proceedings against the importer.

India topped the list of a total of 72 countries of origin, accounting for 45 per cent of all the seized shipments, with the rest of Asia collectively contributing just 9 per cent.

"Over recent years, an ongoing increase in medicinal products from India has been observed," said Swissmedic, noting that in 2009 the country was the source of 38 per cent of seizures, up from 30 per cent in 2008.

"In addition to the 45 per cent of shipments that arrived directly from India, many packages from Western Europe also contained medicines that were manufactured in India," notes the report. Many of the tablets or capsules were delivered without packaging or patient information leaflets.

European countries were the origin in 35 per cent - particularly the UK, Germany, Greece and Portugal - with the USA a relatively infrequent source at just 2 per cent. A surprisingly large crop came from tropical island states such as Vanuatu and the Seychelles.

"Laboratory results have repeatedly confirmed that around half of the products in question have serious quality defects; for instance the active substance amount is wrongly stated, or a non-declared active substance has been added," according to Swissmedic.

Once again erectile dysfunction drugs topped the list of seized medicines - accounting for a third of the total - with weight-loss products ranked second (19 per cent). Those two categories were followed by muscle-building drugs (9 per cent), sleeping pills and other potentially addictive medicines (6 per cent), psychotropics (3 per cent), and hormonal skin-lightening or tanning products (3 per cent).

"Those operating the websites are usually individuals who have no expert medical knowledge, and distribute these often dangerous products unscrupulously, for purely commercial reasons," said Swissmedic.

"They mainly operate out of states with which Switzerland has no mutual legal assistance agreement, meaning that no punitive action can be taken."

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