Operation "PANGEA XI": Switzerland participates in international week of action against illegal trading in medicines


In mid-October, authorities worldwide reviewed criminal online sales of medicines in a coordinated operation. Illegal erectile stimulants continue to dominate the market: 87% of the consignments confiscated by Swissmedic and the Swiss Federal Customs Administration (FCA) contained potency preparations.

This year Switzerland once again took part in the PANGEA international week of action coordinated by Interpol. A total of 116 countries were involved. The aim of this operation, now on its 11th outing, is to combat the illegal trade in medicinal products via the internet. Worldwide 10 million units illegal and counterfeit medicinal products were seized. 

In Switzerland, the FCA, Swissmedic and Antidoping Switzerland checked over 1,000 shipments in the Zurich-Mülligen postal hub. 304 shipments containing illegal medicinal products or doping agents were confiscated, representing a sharp rise compared to previous years. 87% of the medicinal products seized during the operation were erectile stimulants. Over the whole of 2017, potency preparations accounted for 59% of the confiscated shipments, double the percentage recorded just a few years ago.

Seizure of harmful potency preparations

The increase in confiscations is attributable to the closer cooperation between the FCA and Swissmedic. A simplified procedure for confiscating shipments was introduced several weeks ago and currently focuses on erectile stimulants. This efficient procedure implements the political will to get to grips with cross-border online trade. 

The focus also resulted from the latest laboratory analyses carried out by Swissmedic on erectile stimulants obtained over the internet, which showed that the quality of these products is still poor: around half of approx. 100 preparations analysed were defective. The consumption of these products can pose a serious threat to health.

Specifically, the following shortcomings were found in 46 of the 96 preparations analysed:

  • 13 preparations were deliberately massively overdosed or contained a medically alarming combination of two active substances
  • 13 supposedly plant-based preparations or nutritional supplements contained undeclared active chemical substances.
  • 2 preparations contained the wrong ingredient
  • 17 preparations were incorrectly dosed
  • 7 preparations contained not just a potency-enhancing active ingredient, but also other substances such as painkillers, antibiotics, immune-suppressants or heavy metals. 

The illegal suppliers are also becoming increasingly creative and unscrupulous. Thus, for example, undeclared chemical substances were found in a chocolate bar or in a chocolate heart. Upon analysis, the chocolate heart was found to contain more than the maximum daily dose of the active substance sildenafil. 

Chocolate heart that contains more than the maximum daily dose of the active substance sildenafil
"Chocolate with hidden erectile stimulants"
© Swissmedic

Illegal websites identified

As part of the operation, the authorities have also identified 27 illegal foreign websites masquerading as Swiss online pharmacies. The necessary steps have been initiated to have these internet sites deleted. Internationally operating criminal networks are often concealed behind supposedly serious suppliers on the internet.

The Pangea operation tracks online sales of counterfeit and illegal medicines in order to identify manufacturers and dealers so that they can be removed from the market – and, at the same time, make the buyers aware of the risks of such purchases.

The annual week of action coordinated by Interpol involves cooperation between customs, health and law enforcement agencies, as well as companies, from over 100 countries. 

This year the authorities shut down 3671 websites with illegal online offerings. Some 859 individuals were arrested around the world, and 33 criminal organisations identified and reported. Worldwide, about 1 million shipments were checked and about 500’000 shipments with 10 million units illegal medicines confiscated.

Further links


Chocolate package containing more than a maximum daily dose of the active substance sildenafil
Chocolate heart with hidden erectile stimulants - Packaging
© Swissmedic
Chocolate heart containing erection-promoting substances harmful to health
Undeclared chemical substances were found in a chocolate heart
© Swissmedic
Chocolate heart that contains more than the maximum daily dose of the active substance sildenafil
Upon analysis, this chocolate heart was found to contain more than the maximum daily dose of the active substance sildenafil
© Swissmedic

Last modification 23.10.2018

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