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Channel 4: Italian mafia diverted stolen medicines to UK pharmacies

Reporter Antony Barnett is presenting the Dispatches investigation
Reporter Antony Barnett is presenting the Dispatches investigation

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?

Interleukin -2, Community pharmacist

Where was the mafia involvement ?

Really? Wow, Superintendent Pharmacist

Unfortunately the standard of journalism on the BBC especially these days is absolutle deplorable. 

There was a report about inequality on Newsnight last night that had me shouting at the TV... it was about how Cambridge is doing really well with tech and science  start ups and across the tracks in a council estate people earned less.

So the best and brighest of business and science earned more than some people who likely didn't have  an A level between them... that is now news is it?! Also, its some how societies fault?! I failed to miss the bulletin where we are now a Marxist state. 

This level of tosh is a race to the bottom

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

You do have to wonder why Trident didnt query how this spanish supplier was getting Lyrica cheaper than Pfizer were supplying it (or they wouldnt have bothered presumably).. it sounds like the Pharmaceutical equivalent of a van on a motorway service station.

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

Hi Kevin - the program explained the price differentials between the different countries, really no different to price differentials for the same generic between wholesalers. There was a case a few years back where community pharmacists had, quite literally, bought some dodgy zantac off the back of a lorry (or, in this case boot of a car) and got struck off but that was wilful involvement in a fraud. The case here was different as Trident had followed the guidelines/regulations and had even quarantined the stock when told to do so. Like I said - sensationalist journalism. My question is why Dispatches aren't looking in to the funding cuts?



Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

thanks Stephen. Wouldnt that one be fun!

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

Now, that is a program that would get us all shouting at the telly!

John Cleese, Production & Technical

There was no mention of FMD (just "things are happening"), and did anyone else think the hugely over-sensationalist graphics were a bit like The Day Today? I expected Alan Partridge to appear with a sports update. Like most journalism today, this was primarily made to be triggery eye-candy, not informative.

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

So, despite the programs best efforts to smear Pharmacy in general, and Trident/AAH/Lloyds in particular, there was no proof of falsified medicines reaching patients, Trident complied with all regulatory requirements, including quarantining stock when told and generally this was all a big 'lets stir people up and mention profits before patients' when, by their own admission via one of the graphics, use of parallel imports saves the NHS money. Is this what passes for journalism in this country?

Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

Sensationalism at its finest. FMD wasn’t mentioned and all when it should have been. Plus this happened in 2014 and he’s suddenly investigating it now? 

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

'Finger on the pulse' journalism :)

Bob Dunkley, Locum pharmacist

No mention was made at all of the huge investment that pharmacies have made to comply with the FMD regulations . I wonder if the indecent haste with which this legislation was imposed on pharmacy came about because the MHRA knew they had a big problem? No input I see from the Pharmaceutical Society or the GPHC.


Interleukin -2, Community pharmacist

ehem! .....except two companies ...point of correction

Stephen Hay, Locum pharmacist

So this program ended with 'is enough being done?'. I missed 5min of it but, no mention of FMD in what I saw.

Community Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Looks like a surreptitious advert for FMD to me  ...Is there a link to FMD interested parties and this article ? Perhaps they've noticed all  the hardware and  software sat in limbo like Brexit ?....Worth a journalistic dig perhaps??? False medicine monitoring should be addressed at source- the wholesalers.They should have water tight checks for false medicines and no doubt have the profits to finance it and the technology to do it.Checks should occur WELL BEFORE they are sold at crazy prices to Pharmacies who are struggling with NHS imposed workload as it is.

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