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£12m worth of counterfeit medicines seized in the UK

by News team

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has seized £12.2m worth of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines in the UK as part of a week-long international operation.

The sixth Operation Pangea took place between 18 and 25 June this year and involved 99 countries worldwide. It is the largest international operation co-ordinated by Interpol. Globally, £26.8m worth of drugs were seized, corresponding to 9.9 million doses.

Nimo Ahmed, acting head of enforcement at the MHRA, explained that many of the suppliers shipped their products via the UK because they believed it made customers think the products were coming from a well regulated country.

The UK agency said it was getting better at targeting shipments from certain countries, with many of the medicines coming from India. The seized products included versions of drugs such as isotretinoin, sildenafil and tramadol, as well as anticancer medicines.

Mr Ahmed warned that weight-loss pills were often presented as herbal supplements, which actually contained prescription-only medicines.

Battle continues online

According to Stephen Truick, internet infrastructure investigator for the MHRA, the UK has the fewest websites selling illegal medicines and no other country’s internet is as clean.

Mr Truick leads the MHRA’s efforts to close down illegal websites selling potentially harmful medicines. He explained that this is usually done through disabling the domain name or the payment facility method.

However, this year there has been a drop in the number of websites closed down globally: 9,610 compared with 18,000 last year. Mr Ahmed said this was because there are often hundreds, if not thousands, of “feeder” websites that direct customers to an “anchor” website, and it is the latter that Operation Pangea is now targeting.

Mr Ahmed said that a key aim of Operation Pangea is to raise public awareness of the issue, as well as disrupt the way the criminals supply these illegal drugs.

Neal Patel, spokesman for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “It is hugely worrying that prescription medicines are available from illicit websites. This is a serious patient safety issue.

“We would urge the public if they wish to buy medicines online to always check that they are dealing with a genuine pharmacy.”

Mr Ahmed added that people should go to their GP for a legitimate prescription instead of seeking medicines online.

The European Commission’s Falsified Medicines Directive, expected to be transposed into UK law from August 2013, will stipulate that all legitimate pharmacy websites carry a logo. Mr Ahmed said that he believes this will improve the situation but not completely solve it.

Only yesterday PJ Online reported that prescription-only drugs for infertility, erectile dysfunction and diabetes were being illegally sold on the UK marketplace website eBay in spite of complaints to the MHRA.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11122812

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