UK, US enforcers swoop on illegal pharma supply network

A UK operation has intercepted 1,200kg of unapproved and counterfeit benzodiazepine and opioid drugs – thought to be produced in India – after raids on six premises in the southeast.

The operation into the illegal importation and distribution of unregulated pharmaceuticals is being carried out by authorities in the UK as well as the US. The UK arm of the ongoing investigation has resulted in four arrests and the seizure of £60,000 (around $8,250) in cash.

Police said that the UK also seems to be a staging post for the criminal network, with the illicit medicines shipped onward to other countries including the US.

Three storage containers and three residential properties in northwest London and Slough were targeted on July 13 during the operation. The drugs were concealed under clothing and large cakes, and mixed in with sundries.

"We believe that these pharmaceutical drugs are being mass-produced in India and imported to the UK for onward international distribution, resulting in significant financial gain for those involved," said Detective Inspector Anne Medlycott of City of London Police's serious organised crime team.

"The drugs are unregulated, meaning that the contents, purity and ingredients are unknown," she added.

Pharmaceuticals like benzodiazepines and opioids are frequently targeted by medicine counterfeiters, selling them on the street alongside other drugs like heroin and cocaine. They are often laced with fentanyl, a super-strong opioid that is a contributing factor to overdoses and fatalities seen in a number of countries including the US and UK.

The arrested suspects have been released under investigation until August 6, according to City of London Police.

The London Attaché to the US Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) agency, Eric Feldman, praised the collaboration and information sharing in the operation which kept "illicit, unregulated prescription drugs out of the hands of criminals and off our streets."

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