Illicit trade in medicines: Fewer slimming products, more sleeping tablets and tranquillisers


In 2015, Swiss customs reported 1,134 cases of illegally imported medicinal products to Swissmedic, the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products. While fewer slimming products were imported, more medicines containing narcotics were confiscated.

In 2015, Swissmedic received 1,134 shipments containing suspicious medicines from customs offices, 7 % fewer than the previous year. 51 % of these preparations were erectile stimulants, 15 % sleeping tablets and tranquillisers and 13 % slimming preparations. More sleeping tablets and tranquillisers are being obtained illegally, while imports of slimming preparations declined during 2014 and 2015 compared to previous years. Potency products still account for around half the illegal imports.

The medicinal products confiscated by Swiss customs last year had been sent from 62 different countries. Two thirds of all seized shipments originated in Asian countries, including over 40 % from India.

Hidden narcotics
Potentially dangerous active substances that are either incorrectly declared or not declared at all represent a growing problem. Weight-loss capsules purchased on the website of "The Diennet Institute" and analysed by Swissmedic contained the undeclared narcotic substances amfepramone (appetite suppressant) and diazepam (tranquilliser). Amfepramone is no longer authorised in Switzerland and can cause severe cardiovascular problems, while the prolonged uncontrolled use of diazepam without medical supervision can lead to dependence.

Swissmedic warns against illicit online trading
Most of the medicinal products procured from dubious sources on the Internet have major quality defects. They are counterfeit, of poor quality, ineffective or incorrectly dosed and thus pose a substantial threat to health. Since most of the prescription-only preparations are supplied without a carton or package insert, users have no information on correct dosages or warnings about precautions or possible side effects.

Swissmedic strongly discourages people from ordering medicines on the Internet. Anyone who does so is jeopardising their health as well as risking confiscation of the goods and the costs of administrative proceedings. Purchasing medicinal products from controlled sources is the only way of guaranteeing that their quality complies with requirements and expectations.

Swissmedic monitors illegal medicine imports in close cooperation with the customs authorities. As the authority responsible for overseeing the therapeutic products market in Switzerland, Swissmedic analyses suspicious shipments confiscated by customs, determines their risk potential and initiates appropriate action where necessary.

The agency also works with national and international authorities and institutions to fight illegal trade in medicinal products.

Countries of origin of confiscated medicinal product shipments (2015)

Most of the shipments to Switzerland originated from the following regions:

India 42 %
Asia (excluding India, primarily Thailand, China, Singapore, Cambodia)               
24 %
Western Europe (such as UK, Germany, Portugal) 18 %
Eastern Europe   8 %
Central and South America   4 %
Other   4 %


Products (2015)

The following product categories were confiscated most frequently:

Erectile stimulants 51 %
Sleeping tablets and tranquillisers 15 %
Slimming preparations 13 %
Medically important, prescription-only medicines                    
  9 %
Other 12 %