“Operation PANGEA” – Switzerland participates for the 10th time in an international week of action targeting illegal sales of medicines

Press release

Berne, 25 september 2017

The number of medicinal products ordered on the internet and illegally imported into Switzerland has remained stable. In total, about 40,000 consignments are imported each year, around half of them illegally. This year Switzerland once again took part in the “PANGEA X” international week of action coordinated by Interpol. A total of 123 countries were involved. The aim of the campaign, which was held for the 10th time, was to combat the illegal trade in medicinal products via the internet.

As part of this year's operation, all suspicious postal consignments were systematically inspected during one week. Between 12 and 19 September, the authorities around the world checked more than 700,000 suspicious packages at airports and postal sorting offices. They confiscated 470,000 packages and ordered the closure of more than 3,500 illegal websites. House searches were also conducted and arrests made.

In Switzerland the authorities checked almost 500 packages containing medicinal products. Swiss customs officers and employees of Swissmedic and Antidoping Switzerland confiscated 56 packages containing especially harmful medicines. Recipients of the released shipments were sent an information sheet warning them that the tablets or capsules of unclear origin may contain too much or too little of the active pharmaceutical ingredients or none at all, or that in the worst case they may also contain toxic substances posing serious health risks.

About half the packages inspected originated in a European Union member state. In many cases, however, these contained medicinal products manufactured in India. The place of origin was obscured by criminal European intermediaries and the risks increased further by (for example) inappropriate storage, repackaging and mailing.

Focus on fentanyl

One of the main thrusts of this year’s Operation PANGEA was the fight against illegal trading in fentanyl and its derivatives. Fentanyl is a highly effective pain-killer whose abuse in a number of countries has resulted in numerous fatalities. No fentanyl consignments were discovered so far in Switzerland: the fatal risk of this substance would appear to be well known. The authorities responsible are still on the alert and will continue to closely monitor the market in order to prevent any serious harm being caused by fentanyl.

Antibiotics as a public health risk

Erectile stimulants are still the commonest illegally imported medicinal products. However, a relatively large number of antibiotic imports were also discovered during the week of action. Given the danger of antibiotic resistance developing when these medicines are administered without professional guidance, this is a cause for concern. As these medicines may lose their efficacy when administered incorrectly, this jeopardises vital treatment options for infectious diseases.

Websites hacked

PANGEA not only entails confiscation of illegal imports but also the combating of illegal internet offerings. Checks on the internet showed that numerous Swiss websites with no actual connection with pharmaceuticals (e.g. football clubs, restaurants, photography) have been hacked so that visitors are rerouted to illegal sales platforms for medicinal products. We would like to remind web administrators that they are responsible for ensuring the safety of their sites and should rapidly take the necessary remedial measures if their website has been subject to such an attack. If Swissmedic detects such illegal rerouting, administrative measures may be taken – even to the extent of blocking the web pages concerned.