Sharp increase in imports of illegal medicinal products


Swissmedic was notified by the Swiss customs authorities of 687 cases of potentially illegal imports of medicinal products in 2008. This represents an increase of 75% in comparison with the previous year. Most of the shipments (87%) were destroyed once the administrative proceedings were completed.

In 2008, Swissmedic was notified by the customs authorities of 687 cases of suspicious imports of therapeutic products. This is only the tip of the iceberg: based on estimates, the number of cases of illegally imported medicines is around 50,000 each year. Of the 687 notifications from the customs authorities, only 18 proved to be unjustified and were released for import by Swissmedic. Some 32 cases concerned medicines containing narcotics, and were forwarded to the competent Cantons for processing. The remaining cases led to administrative proceedings with the relevant costs being payable. It was decided to return the dispatch to the sender in only 11% of the completed proceedings, and in 87% of the cases the decision was taken to destroy the shipments for health protection reasons. In certain cases, penal proceedings were initiated against the recipients of the shipments.

The medicines seized by the Swiss customs authorities came from 67 different countries. The majority of them came from the following regions:
India 30%
Western Europe (including the UK, Germany, Greece, Portugal) 30%
Asia (excluding India, e.g. Thailand, China, Pakistan) 13%
Tropical island states (Vanuatu, Seychelles, Fiji) 8%
Central and South America (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay) 5%
Eastern Europe (Slovakia, Kosovo, Bulgaria) 5%


The following categories were those most frequently seized:
Erectile stimulants 32%
Muscle-building products 16%
Slimming products 10%
Prescription hair restorers 7%
Painkillers 4%
Psychotropic drugs  3%
Creams to lighten skin containing corticosteroids  3%
Prescription medicines for high blood pressure, epilepsy, infections, conception, etc.  

Poor quality

Analysis of samples from the various product categories revealed that more than half the products did not contain what was claimed. Of a total of 44 batches of erectile stimulants analysed, 27 proved to be counterfeit or low-quality imitations. In some cases, the products analysed were moreover considerably overdosed, which can also lead to serious health problems (such as circulatory collapse).

Swissmedic issues an urgent warning against ordering medicines from the Internet since they can be harmful to your health. It is also forbidden for individuals to import larger quantities of medicines (i.e. more than one month's supply). You can find further information on the risks related to ordering medicines on the Internet and the legal issues in connection with importing medicines from abroad from our information on the subject, at: