Operation PANGEA XV: International campaign against falsified and illegally imported medicinal products

Authorities checked shipments of medicinal products worldwide from criminal online sales


The 15th Interpol-coordinated worldwide campaign against the illegal online trade in medicinal products took place from 23 to 30 June 2022. In Switzerland, the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (FOCBS) and Swissmedic checked 948 shipments of medicinal products or doping substances. Two-thirds of the illegal shipments contained erectile stimulants, which have dominated the illegal online market for years.

Switzerland has for some years been participating in the PANGEA international week of action, which is coordinated by Interpol. A total of 94 countries took part this year. The aim of this operation, now on its 15th outing, remains combating the illegal trade in medicinal products via the Internet. During the campaign, a total of 3 million units of illegal and falsified medicinal products were secured.

At the Zurich-Mülligen postal sorting office, employees from the FOCBS, Swissmedic, Swiss Sport Integrity and the Office for Health of the Principality of Liechtenstein confiscated 231 of the 948 shipments checked.

Shipments from Hong Kong containing counterfeits of authorised erectile stimulants were discovered with conspicuous frequency. Confiscated narcotics were reported to the cantonal authorities so that they could institute criminal proceedings.

Countries of origin of the shipments confiscated in Switzerland during Operation PANGEA XV

Criminal networks are constantly changing

The illegal distribution of medicinal products is the work of professionally organised and internationally networked criminals. Falsified medicinal products are generally produced in Asia, with fake erectile stimulants originating in India. The products find their way to Swiss patients by illegal and circuitous distribution channels. The majority of confiscated shipments during the PANGEA XV campaign came from Hong Kong, Poland and India. Thanks to close cooperation with the authorities in the countries of origin, it is possible to report the sources of the illegal medicinal products to contacts there so that action can be taken against illegal dealers.

Illegally traded medicinal products constitute a premeditated threat to patients’ health. They often contain none of the declared active substance or else less than the amount stated, or undeclared substances. In an attempt to foil simple tests, some of them contain active substances in smaller amounts than those stated.

Here, the inferior quality is visible to the naked eye: counterfeits of a well-known erectile stimulant are in several different shades of blue. It is more dangerous when defects – such as wrong active substances, incorrect dosage or contamination with other substances – are not immediately evident.

Safe use of medicinal products: some important tips

  • Obtain your medicinal products from safe sources: These include local pharmacies, drug stores, doctors’ practices or hospitals, or licensed mail-order pharmacies. Only products obtained through monitored distribution channels are safe, effective and of good quality.
  • Be safe: Medicinal products containing the wrong amount of active ingredient and products containing components harmful to health represent an incalculable health hazard.
  • If you obtain a medicinal product from an unknown source which may have the backing of a criminal network, you are putting your health at considerable risk. It’s just not worth the money you thought you were saving.

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