New Zealand and over 40 other countries recently took part in an international week of action targeting the online sale of counterfeit and illegal medicines, resulting in arrests across the globe and the seizure of thousands of potentially harmful medicines.
Focusing on websites supplying illegal and dangerous medicines, Operation Pangea III is the largest Internet-based action of its kind in support of the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT). The operation was coordinated by INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical crime (PFIPC), the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (HMA WGEO), the pharmaceutical industry, and the electronic payments industry.
The global operation, carried out between 5 and 12 October 2010, involved police, customs and national medicines regulators with support from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), payment systems providers and delivery services. It targeted the three main components abused in the illegal website trade: the ISP, the electronic payment system and the delivery service.
Throughout the week, the New Zealand Customs Service, with the assistance of Medsafe, conducted intensified screening of all mail entering New Zealand.
Customs intercepted over 400 consignments suspected of containing medicines and referred them to Medsafe for further examination. A total of 34 consignments were seized immediately by Medsafe because they were not labelled and thus could not be identified, or because they were products known to contain undeclared or hidden ingredients.
A further 153 consignments containing prescription medicines have been detained by Medsafe to allow the importer the opportunity to consult a New Zealand health professional authorised to prescribe prescription medicines before a release or seizure decision is made.
The examination of these consignments revealed a wide variety of medicines, including those used for the treatment of heart disease and erectile dysfunction. The medicines were imported from 35 countries.
Derek Fitzgerald, Manager of Medsafe’s Compliance Management Branch, warned consumers of the risks of purchasing medicines from sources outside the New Zealand distribution chain, particularly through the Internet.
“Medicines obtained from these sources are likely not to have been assessed and approved by Medsafe or by any other reputable authority with respect to their quality, safety and efficacy, and so may pose a serious risk to health,” he cited.
“We strongly discourage the practice of self-diagnosis and self-medicating for conditions requiring treatment with medicines only available after consultation with a healthcare professional. Failure to obtain diagnosis and appropriate advice from a qualified healthcare professional may put the consumer’s health at serious risk,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
Questions and answers
What types of medicines have been intercepted?
During Operation PANGEA III, medicines discovered included antibiotics as well as medication for the treatment of hair loss, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, influenza, gastrointestinal complaints, heart disease, insomnia, asthma, mental health, birth control, pain relief, skin disorders, erectile dysfunction and weight loss.
Where were the medicines imported from?
Medicines originated from 35 countries, including the United States, India, Great Britain, China, Korea, Thailand, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Fiji, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, Turkey, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Iran, Sri Lanka, The Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Cyprus, The Czech Republic, Finland, Indonesia, Malaysia, French Polynesia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Vietnam and Western Samoa.