International Operation PANGEA week: Authorities confiscate 48,564 shipments of illegal pharmaceuticals worldwide

The number of medicinal products ordered online and illegally imported into Switzerland is declining


This year, 51 countries took part in Operation PANGEA XIII, a week of action against illegal online trade in pharmaceuticals coordinated by Interpol and other organisations. The number of medicinal products imported illegally into Switzerland is declining slightly. Erectile stimulants remain the category most often confiscated. More than 90% of shipments originate from India but are dispatched by criminal networks operating mainly through countries in Europe.

In Switzerland, the Federal Customs Administration, Swissmedic, Antidoping Switzerland and the Office for Health of the Principality of Liechtenstein checked more than 700 suspicious shipments in early March 2020. These authorities confiscated 184 foreign shipments containing tablets, capsules or ampoules.

Erectile stimulants accounted for 73.4% of the confiscated goods, followed by anabolic steroids, narcotics, antibiotics, and antiviral and antiparasitic medicinal products.

Confiscated shipments Number In percent
Erectile stimulants 135 73,4
Performance enhancers (banned doping agents) 14 7,6
Narcotics 14 7,6
Other prescription-only medicinal products 21 11,4
Total 184  

The number of medicinal products ordered online and imported illegally into Switzerland is declining slightly. Swissmedic and the Federal Customs Administration estimate that some 35,000 shipments of medicinal products are imported into Switzerland annually, while the estimate for 2017 was roughly 40,000 shipments. Around one third of these shipments are illegal, meaning that the imported quantity is greater than the legally tolerated monthly requirement.

More than half (374) of the 707 shipments contained erectile stimulants. Over 90% of these originated from India, with criminal dealers handling the shipments mainly through Poland, Ukraine, Hungary or Germany.

Operation Pangea: 13 years of international collaboration against illegal online trade in pharmaceuticals

This year, the competent authorities inspected 326,379 shipments worldwide. They confiscated 48,564 of these shipments with a value of approximately 13.5 million Swiss francs. 2,569 online platforms offering illegal pharmaceuticals were shut down.

Offerings through online marketplaces and social media channels continue to increase. Online criminal activities are increasing accordingly. The practice of obtaining illegal products from dubious sources not only poses a risk to health, it also carries a risk of being defrauded if goods that have been paid for never arrive. Another example concerns seemingly reputable online shops that offer “the ultimate muscle pill”, sold as a dietary supplement, using a forced and overpriced subscription model that unscrupulously fleeces the customer. E-mails advertising illegal pharmaceuticals that contain malware are a further danger.

A total of 51 countries joined forces with Europol, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and international payment and delivery service providers in Operation PANGEA XIII, a week of action coordinated by Interpol. The Federal Customs Administration and Swissmedic have been part of the Operation since it was launched in 2007. This initiative to combat trade in counterfeit and illegal pharmaceuticals online also aims to increase awareness of the risks associated with purchasing medicinal products and banned substances online.

Interpol didn’t organise an international week of action in 2019 because the operation had become too predictable. In Operation PANGEA XIII the authorities in the participating countries evaluated all the shipments confiscated between June 2018 and June 2019.

  • Medicinal products containing the wrong amount of active ingredient and products containing components harmful to health represent an incalculable risk to health.
  • You should only obtain medicinal products from checked and approved online pharmacies or from local pharmacies, drugstores, doctors or hospitals. Only products obtained through monitored distribution channels are safe, effective and of good quality.
  • Pharmaceuticals from unknown sources supported by criminal networks represent a major health risk that is not worth the presumed savings.


Swissmedic, Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products
Media Office

+41 58 462 02 76