111 countries took part in the international "PANGEA" week of action to combat illegal trading in medicines online. Switzerland has been involved in this operation, coordinated by Interpol and other organizations, since 2007.
During this year's operation, Swiss customs, the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products Swissmedic and the Antidoping Switzerland Foundation confiscated 125 illegal shipments of medicines or doping agents from other countries. Illegal imports of narcotic-containing medicines have increased.
Every year drug shipments from abroad are systematically checked over a period of a week in connection with Operation PANGEA. At airports and mail distribution centres, authorities worldwide checked over 540,000 suspicious postal items between 13 and 20 May. They confiscated almost 20,000 packages and ordered the closure of around 10,000 illegal websites. The authorities also conducted house searches and made arrests.
In Switzerland, the authorities checked over 1,500 packages containing medicines. Employees of Swissmedic and Antidoping Switzerland, together with their colleagues from the Liechtenstein Pharmacist's Office, confiscated 111 packages containing especially harmful medicines and 14 packages with banned doping agents.
The recipients of the released shipments received an information letter with the following warnings: Tablets and capsules of unknown origin may contain too many or too few active ingredients, or no active ingredients at all. In the worst-case scenario, counterfeit medicines can contain toxic constituents that pose a major risk to health.
This year Swissmedic focused their checks on medicines containing narcotics. A recent increase has been noted in the illegal importation of sleeping pills, which are frequently misused. Particularly if sleeping pills are taken with other medicines, the mutual interactions can be very harmful and lead to dependency. 34 of the 111 packages confiscated during the operation contained narcotics.
Swissmedic also ordered the closure of two Swiss websites that had supplied the illegal medicines. 80 products offered on web auction platforms were removed at the instigation of Swissmedic. Thanks to regular interventions by Swissmedic, fewer illegal products were offered online from Switzerland compared to the number found during last year's operation.
The illicit medicines originated primarily from India and China, or from European countries where the goods were repackaged in order to conceal their origin. Most of the confiscated doping substances were sent from Greece.
Buying "cheap" medicines can prove expensive
An administrative procedure leading to financial penalties is initiated against the recipients of the confiscated shipments. For reasons of drug safety, moreover, the illegal goods are destroyed. Apart from the major health risks, those who order such products also run the risk of having their personal details, including credit card numbers, misused by criminal organizations.
Anyone who orders and accepts medicines or active substances from an unknown source online is taking substantial health-related and financial risks.