The 16th Interpol-coordinated worldwide campaign against the illegal online trade in medicinal products took place from 3 to 10 October 2023. Switzerland was once again involved, with the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (FOCBS), Swissmedic and Swiss Sport Integrity (SSI). The focus was on both the goods ordered and measures against online suppliers.
Operation Pangea XVI: International campaign against falsified and illegally imported medicinal products
Authorities checked shipments of medicinal products worldwide from criminal online sales
The aim of Operation Pangea, which is carried out annually, is coordinated efforts to combat illegal Internet-based sales of medicinal products. A total of 1,300 websites worldwide were shut down by the authorities of 89 participating countries. Illegal and falsified medicinal products worth USD 7 million were seized.
In this year’s operation, Swissmedic focused on the ordering options offered by suppliers, with targeted examination of websites and social media posts for illegal distribution sources. It was found that illegal dealers were misusing legal Swiss websites that have no connection with medicinal products. These include websites of sports clubs, SMEs and playgroups. They hacked the uninvolved websites and added pages with sales options for falsified medicinal products and doping agents. By doing so, the criminals aimed to create the impression of being an official Swiss supplier. During Operation Pangea, Swissmedic informed the webmasters of 67 websites that had been hacked in this way and requested corrective measures. Swissmedic also investigated sales platforms that are not based in Switzerland. They were also contacted and deleted more than 200 offers that are illegal in Switzerland.
Monitoring on social media is more challenging for the authorities. Swiss mobile phone numbers are given in some posts for slimming teas, erectile stimulants and doping agents. People making a purchase pay the amount due via standard mobile payment platforms. It is difficult to trace the criminals behind this. As part of this year’s Operation Pangea, Swissmedic launched an awareness-raising campaign that aimed to encourage people not to take up these dubious offers.
Checks by employees of the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security
Some 900 posts were checked at the Zurich-Mülligen postal sorting office, 230 of which contained falsified and illegally imported medicinal products. Shipments from India and Eastern Europe were discovered with conspicuous frequency, accounting for more than half of the countries of origin. More than 50% of the products were erectile stimulants, and one quarter were psychotropic agents. Confiscated narcotics were reported by the authorities to the cantons, which will open corresponding criminal proceedings.
Safe use of medicinal products: some important tips
- Lifestyle products (e.g. slimming products and erectile stimulants) are often offered for sale on social media platforms (see picture below / e.g. erectile stimulant tadalafil 80 mg). When visiting such websites, Swissmedic recommends always assessing carefully and critically which offers you should take up. You should avoid purchasing any prescription-only medicines sold via social media without a prescription.
- Anyone who suspects illegal trading is requested to report this to Swissmedic.
- Falsified medicinal products constitute a premeditated threat to patients’ health. They often contain none of the declared active substance or else less or more than the amount stated. They may also contain undeclared substances. In an attempt to foil simple tests, some of them contain active substances, but in smaller amounts than those stated.
- 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.
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