Interpol has carried out a major new operation against online pharmacies offering medicines illegally, resulting in the seizure of more than a million illicit and counterfeit pills worth an estimated $2.6m.
The haul of illicit and counterfeit medicines included antibiotics, steroids, cancer drugs, antidepressants, epilepsy treatments, as well as illegal slimming and food supplement products, said Interpol.
Operation Pangea III also resulted in 76 people being arrested or placed under investigation around the world, while 694 websites were monitored for nefarious activity, said Interpol, which coordinated the enforcement action with the assistance of police forces, customs and national regulatory authorities.
A total of 294 websites have already been closed down and work is ongoing to stop the operations of others suspected of being involved in illegal activities. During the operation 268,000 packs were inspected and 11,000 packs were seized.
The action targeted three key elements of the online pharmacy trade - the Internet service providers (ISPs), the electronic payments system and the delivery service - and is also intended to send out a message to the public about the risks of purchasing medicines online.
"Interpol's key objective in Operation Pangea III was to alert and protect members of the public by assisting our 188 member countries shut down illegal pharmaceutical websites, chase money flows and backtrack to the sources behind these illicit pharmaceutical products which represent such a threat to the health of the public," said Ronald Noble, secretary general of the international police organisation.
Interpol has also made a series of movies to illustrate the dangers of buying medicines online, featuring dramatic illustrations of the potential for serious harm by counterfeit medicines. The series, entitled Don't be your own killer, can be viewed on Interpol's YouTube channel here. Below is one example from the series:
Pangea III ran from October 5 to 12 and is the largest Internet-based enforcement action of its kind to date, spanning 45 countries, according to Interpol.
Other groups contributing their expertise included IMPACT, the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC) and the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (HMA WGEO).
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