Increase in illegal imports of medicinal products in 2014: The risks are underestimated


Medicines that people buy and take themselves without medical supervision involve numerous risks and dangers. Nevertheless, more illegal medicinal products were confiscated at the Swiss border last year than in the previous year. This follows a period of three years in which numbers declined. Over half the confiscated medicinal products were erectile stimulants. 45% of all the medicines confiscated originated in India.

Last year, Swiss customs reported 1,225 confiscations of illegal shipments of medicinal products to Swissmedic, compared to 1,096 cases in 2013. 53% of the preparations confiscated were erectile stimulants, 13% sleeping pills and tranquillisers and 10% slimming preparations. This puts sleeping pills and tranquillisers, which have a certain potential for dependency, in second place for the first time.

While the number of illegal imports fell between 2010 (1,852) and 2013 (1,096), the number of confiscations increased in 2014 by approx. 11%. While Swissmedic does not yet believe that this represents a reversal of the trend, it is nevertheless concerned about the sharp rise in the proportion of illegally imported erectile stimulants. Whereas this category accounted for 26% and 42% of seized medicines in 2012 and 2013 respectively, the figure rose to 53% last year.

"A growing number of men are overdosing on erectile stimulants, and they are anything but harmless", says Ruth Mosimann, Head of Market Monitoring of Illegal Medicines at Swissmedic. The fact that the doses are double, or even triple the recommended dosage is extremely worrying from a medical standpoint, because overdosing does not improve erectile function. Instead, adverse reactions such as severe headaches, palpitations or circulatory collapse occur more frequently. The high percentage of erectile stimulants is particularly surprising in view of the fact that attempting to illegally import them can cost the buyer at least 300 Swiss francs in procedural costs.

The shipments of medicinal products confiscated by Swiss customs in 2014 originated in 55 different countries. 45% of all confiscated preparations were sent from India. Swissmedic attributes this to stricter control of illegal trade in medicinal products in Europe. "Better enforcement in Europe is forcing criminal distributors to switch to India, where the authorities are obviously taking very little action", says Mosimann.

Cases of of illegally imported medicines reported to Swissmedic by the Swiss Customs Office


Trend by product category

2014 53% erectile stimulants
13% sleeping pills and tranquillisers
10% slimming preparations
2013 42% erectile stimulants
27% slimming preparations
10% sleeping pills and tranquillisers

26% erectile stimulants
15% slimming preparations
14% body-building supplements*
13% sleeping pills and tranquillisers

*Since 2013, Antidoping Switzerland has been responsible for the procedures relating to anabolic steroids. Therefore, these products no longer appear in the Swissmedic figures for 2013 and 2014.

Countries of origin of confiscated medicinal product shipments

2014 45% India
22% Western Europe
19% Asia
  5% Eastern Europe
  9% Other regions/countries
34 % India
28 % Western Europe
21 % Asia
  7 % Eastern Europe
10 % Other regions/countries
2012 30% India
27% Western Europe
19% Asia
13% Eastern Europe
11% Other regions/countries

Further links

Customs 2014

Media release of Swiss Customs Office dated 5 February 2015