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Channel 4: Italian mafia diverted stolen medicines to UK pharmacies

A Channel 4 programme this evening will reveal how “thousands” of stolen medicines – including for epilepsy and schizophrenia – ended up in pharmacies across the UK.

The Dispatches: How safe are your medicines? documentary – due to air on Channel 4 tonight (June 17) at 8pm – will reveal how criminal gangs linked to the Italian mafia diverted stolen prescription medicines and sold them to wholesalers in the UK between 2011-14.

More than 10,000 units of 25 medicines made their way into the UK supply chain, the broadcaster said in a statement ahead of the programme today.

At least four types of medicines were sold to UK pharmacies, it added.

This included epilepsy drug Lyrica, as well as treatments for prostate cancer and schizophrenia, Channel 4 said.

Identifying the unsafe medicines

According to the broadcaster, the first indication that the stolen medicines had entered the UK supply chain was when a German wholesaler bought a “suspicious batch” of the breast cancer drug Herceptin from a UK wholesaler in 2014. Tests showed that the drug had been tampered with and was ineffective.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) explained that while the stolen medicines were not counterfeit, the fact that they were out of the regulated supply chain for a period of time means they are defined as “falsified”.

Trident Pharmaceuticals named

According to the Channel 4 statement, “by far the largest purchaser of these falsified medicines” was Trident Pharmaceuticals – a subsidiary of wholesaler AAH Pharmaceuticals.

More than 4,000 units of Lyrica were sold by a Spanish company to Trident in 2014, it claimed.

In a statement, Trident said: “In August 2014 we were asked by the regulator responsible for medicines safety, the MHRA, to quarantine some medicines as part of an investigation.”

Trident added that it “took all action required”, but the MHRA advised it to release the quarantined stock as it “did not believe it to be a risk to public health”.

MHRA urgent review

The MHRA told Dispatches that it had “no information on what happened to the affected medicines after they reached UK pharmacies”, the broadcaster claimed.

In a statement about the Channel 4 investigation, MHRA chief executive Ian Hudson said: “Making sure the medicines people and their families take are acceptably safe and effective is the primary role of the MHRA, and our highest priority.”

Instances where falsified medicines have entered the system are “very rare”, and “should be considered against the backdrop” of more than a billion prescription items dispensed in England and Wales a year, Mr Hudson continued.

Have your patients bought any counterfeit medicines?

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