“Thousands” of fake online pharmacies were closed as part of a global annual International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) crackdown, known as Operation Pangea, which ran from May 18-25.
In the UK, authorities arrested seven individuals and removed more than 3,100 advertising links “for the illegal sale and supply of unlicensed medicines”, Interpol said in a statement yesterday (June 8).
A Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) spokesperson stressed to C+D today (June 9) that no pharmacists or healthcare professionals were involved, as the operators of the websites were doing so illegally and they were not registered pharmacies.
The Interpol-coordinated operation saw 92 countries seize illegal medical products and close down more than 113,000 websites and online marketplaces – a record number since the investigations began in 2008, according to Interpol.
Among the medicines seized last month were counterfeit antidepressants, erectile dysfunction tablets, painkillers, anabolic steroids and slimming pills, the MHRA said in a statement yesterday.
The MHRA said it would undertake a detailed analysis of the global results, including identifying “hotspot” exporting countries for illegal medicines.
Andy Morling, head of enforcement at the MHRA, described Operation Pangea as “a powerful example of what can be achieved through partnership working to tackle this kind of offending”.
“We will continue to work closely with our international partners and UK Border Force to prevent unlicensed medicines from entering the UK, to identify illegally operating websites and to bring those criminals behind them to justice,” he added.
“Illicit medicines” removed from circulation in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, 90,000 tablets destined for addresses within the country were seized as part of Operation Pangea, justice minister Naomi Long announced yesterday.
Among the drugs recovered – which had an estimated value of more than £100,000 – were diazepam, pregabalin, methadone, and prescription painkillers.
Northern Ireland’s health minister Robin Swann commented that the risk posed by the counterfeit medicines was “very real”.
“Operation Pangea has shown that … none of our communities [are] immune from the dangers presented by drugs like these,” Mr Swann added.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s chief pharmaceutical officer Cathy Harrison tweeted that the operation demonstrated the “tireless work” of the health department’s medicines regulatory team.
#OperationPangea is one example of the tireless work of @healthdpt Medicines Regulatory Team working in partnership with @PoliceServiceNI to protect public safety @healthdpt @RobinSwannMoH https://t.co/4KYgplVZDu— cathy harrison (@cathyharrison00) June 8, 2021