Press release Berne, 9 June 2016
The number of medicinal products being illegally imported into Switzerland via the Internet remains constant. Erectile stimulants are still the commonest illegally imported preparations. By contrast, the number of illegally imported slimming preparations has declined sharply. 103 countries participated in this year's "PANGEA IX" week of action to combat illegal online trading in medicinal products.
This year the relevant authorities worldwide examined 332,936 shipments, of which they confiscated 170,217 and ordered the closure of 2,414 illegal websites. Swiss customs authorities, Swissmedic and Antidoping Switzerland inspected over 2,000 shipments at Basel-Mulhouse airport and Mülligen post office in Zurich. 765 packages contained medicines or doping agents, 82 of which were confiscated.
Erectile stimulants remain the most frequently imported and confiscated preparations, at 38 percent of the total, followed by psychotropic drugs (24 percent) and doping agents (14 percent). Internet orders of slimming preparations have declined substantially, representing only 2 percent of the confiscated shipments. Last year's Swissmedic publications on their dangers appear to have been effective. In 2013, customs authorities and Swissmedic extrapolated that around 40,000 legal and illegal consignments of medicinal products are imported each year. This year's campaign has confirmed this extrapolation.
Saving money on medicinal products can prove expensive
Administrative proceedings are initiated against the recipients of the confiscated shipments, for which they have to pay the costs. The illegal goods are also destroyed on drug safety grounds. In addition to exposing themselves to major health risks, the people who order these medicinal products also run the risk of personal information, such as credit card details, being misused by criminal organisations. Anyone who orders online and subsequently takes medicines or doping agents of unknown origin is exposing themselves to major health and financial risks.
This year, the imported consignments were also searched for medical devices. 30 shipments contained non-conforming medical devices, including, for example, non-conforming contact lenses or genetic tests. Swissmedic has issued information sheets in a campaign designed to raise users' awareness of the risks of non-conforming medical devices.
Countries of origin: misleading information common and India still in the lead
The great majority of illegally imported medicinal products come from India. No less than 23 percent of the confiscated preparations came to Switzerland from the subcontinent. In second place is Germany, with 18 percent; however, many of the packages sent from Germany contained Indian medicines, indicating that Germany was only a stopover for Asian products. A new entry in third place is Cambodia, which accounts for 16 percent of the illegal medicinal products imported into Switzerland. Most of these were preparations containing narcotics (tranquillisers and sleeping tablets). The Cambodian senders often use names of fictitious children's charities in the return address in order to disguise the contents of the packages. Two common fictitious senders designed to put customs officers off the trail were "Weltkinderhilfe Kambodscha" or "Help a child smile". Following investigations, Swissmedic has reported the website offering the products in question to Interpol as part of the PANGEA IX campaign in a bid to have the website closed down.