Illegally imported medicinal products: effects seen as a result of Swissmedic's measures


The number of illegal medicinal products seized has decreased once again in 2012. After a sharp rise between 2008 and 2010, the authorities confiscated fewer illegally imported products in 2011 and 2012. The number of penal proceedings initiated has nevertheless increased. In many cases, the products that appear to originate in Europe are manufactured in Asia.

Statistics on shipments of illegal medicinal products confiscated by customs have been produced for several years. After a constant increase for some years, 42% fewer reports have been processed by Swissmedic from 2010 to 2012:

Reports to Swissmedic from the Federal Customs authorities:
2006: 287 reports
2007: 390 reports
2008: 687 reports
2009: 1,154 reports
2010: 1,852 reports
2011: 1,299 reports
2012: 1,070 reports

Swissmedic is of the opinion that the decrease observed as of 2010 is above all due to the public relations work carried out in conjunction with the customs authorities and to raising awareness among the population by means of campaigns (for example "Illegal medicines have a shady past":

Other possible reasons are

  • A more risk-based selection when seizing illegal medicinal products,
  • An overall decrease in the number of medicinal products ordered abroad,
  • The dissuasive effect of the administrative and penal proceedings initiated by Swissmedic against those ordering the products in Switzerland.

Measures in accordance with legislation on therapeutic products and penal proceedings
In 2012, Swissmedic initiated administrative proceedings with costs in 995 cases (2011: 1,132 cases) and, following the completion of the proceedings, destroyed 88% of the shipments for safety of medicines reasons. The costs of the proceedings - minimum CHF 300 - are paid by the persons ordering the medicinal products.

Although the number of the shipments seized has decreased, penal proceedings initiated by Swissmedic have grown both in terms of numbers (31 cases opened in 2012 compared with 17 in 2010) and in terms of their relevance for prevention (13 penal sentences in 2012, 6 in 2010). Co-operation with foreign authorities, and notably with Germany and France, has also increased.

"Original European medicines" from Asia

More illegally shipped medicinal products are entering Switzerland from Western Europe (+14% compared with 2011); those sent directly from India are, however, on the decrease
(-18% since 2010). Most products manufactured in Asia are delivered via a European destination, with the aim of increasing their credibility in the eyes of those ordering them.

Original medicines claimed on the Internet to be of European origin can, in fact, prove to be poor imitations from Asia. Those operating the websites frequently have no specialised medical knowledge and are offering the medicinal products purely for commercial gain, with misleading information.

The shipments of prescription-only tablets or capsules are - in the vast majority of cases - delivered without a box or patient information. This means that information on the correct dosage or warnings about precautionary measures or possible side effects are not provided.

Swissmedic therefore wishes to issues a warning, once again, about the dangers of ordering medicinal products from the Internet. Those doing so risk having to pay costs and, in severe cases, penal proceedings. The only way of guaranteeing that medicinal products whose quality corresponds to your needs and expectations, without placing your health at risk, is to obtain them from controlled sources.

The following products categories are those most frequently seized in 2012:
Erectile stimulants 26%
Slimming products 15%
Muscle building products 14%
Potentially addictive medicinal products, including sleeping pills 13%
Hormonal skin whiteners or tanning products  2%


The shipments of medicinal products seized by the Swiss customs in 2012 came from 64 different countries. The majority of shipments to Switzerland came from the following regions:
Western Europe (incl. UK, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain) 30%
India 27%
Asia (without India, incl. Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong) 19%
Eastern Europe 13%
North America  3%