Illegally imported medicinal products: underestimated risks!


At the request of Swissmedic, the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products, the Federal Customs Administration last year seized 3,203 shipments of illegally imported medicinal products: as a result of a new, simplified procedure, the total number was substantially higher compared to the previous year (2017: 1,060). Potency preparations remain at the top of the list of illegally imported substances, followed by medicines with the potential for dependence (psychotropic agents, sleeping tablets and tranquillisers).

The fact that more shipments were confiscated compared to the previous year is also the result of closer cooperation between the authorities. In 2018, Swissmedic and the Federal Customs Administration developed a simplified procedure, which was then tested as part of a pilot project to combat illegal imports of erectile stimulants. Consequently, their number as a proportion of the withheld shipments is especially high.

In view of the positive results, as of 2019 the simplified procedure will be used for illegally imported medicinal products containing other active substances. This procedure implements the political will to combat cross-border online trading in illegal therapeutic products more efficiently with the available resources.

Do not underestimate the dangers of unauthorised imports

The importation of the anti-anxiety preparation Xanax from illegal sources on the Internet, including the dark net is particularly concerning. Since the active ingredient in Xanax, alprazolam, is a benzodiazepine, it is subject to narcotics regulation and has been increasingly abused in recent years. Benzodiazepines are highly effective and can quickly become addictive. Regular medical check-ups are required if they are taken for prolonged periods.

Last year, in cooperation with the customs authority, Swissmedic confiscated 15 illegal shipments of Xanax from Cambodia, Hungary and other countries. According to information supplied by the manufacturer of the original product, over 95 % of illegally traded Xanax preparations are counterfeit. Swiss laboratories that have analysed samples from the party scene discovered wrong ingredients such as antiallergic and psychotropic agents instead of the original active substance. Swissmedic urgently warns people not to buy Xanax or other psychotropic medicines from the Internet. Prescription-only medicines can be used safely only if patients obtain expert advice in person.

Medicinal products from the legal distribution chain in Switzerland can still be trusted. The flawless quality of these products is constantly checked. Counterfeit medicinal products in Swiss packaging have never been encountered.

Shipment of illegally sourced Xanax confiscated during import
In cooperation with the customs authority, Swissmedic confiscated 15 illegal shipments of Xanax from Cambodia, Hungary and other countries
© Swissmedic
Origin of illegal imports by continent/country
42,2 %
Eastern Europe (primarily Poland and Hungary) 32,2 %
Asia (excluding India, primarily Singapore) 17,5 %
Western Europe (primarily Great Britain and Germany) 6,6 %
Other countries 1,5 %
Like last year, India continues to occupy the top spot in the statistics. But the countries of Eastern Europe have now overtaken Singapore as a transit platform to take second place.

Confiscated shipments by type of product
Erectile stimulants
89 %
Other prescription-only medicines 4,5 %
Sleeping tablets and tranquillisers 2,5 %
Slimming preparations 0,9 %
Hair growth preparations 0,8 %
Other 2,3 %

Illegal medicines: they don't contain what is claimed

When medicines are procured from unknown sources online, there is a considerable risk that the package does not contain what is stated on the label. Using poor-quality counterfeit medicines poses a major risk to health.

Swissmedic advises against purchasing and using unauthorised medicines offered in promotional e-mails and via the Internet. Such products usually come with no information on possible risks. Purchasing medicinal products from controlled sources is the only way of guaranteeing that their quality complies with requirements and that they pose no risk to health.

For enquiries, please contact
Swissmedic, Media Office
+41 58 462 02 76

Last modification 02.05.2019

Top of page